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How Authentic Leadership and Inclusion Benefit Organisations

One model of leadership, which seems intuitively aligned to the capabilities needed to guide and manage a diverse workforce, is that of “authentic’ leadership. Authentic leadership emphasises self-awareness, perspective-taking, moral integrity and open, as well as genuine, communication.

Creating a workplace that is inclusive of diverse employees is highly dependent upon leaders’ behaviours. Inclusive leaders “must model comfort with diversity, alter rules for acceptable behaviours to ensure wide application, create opportunities for dialogue about and across differences, demonstrate an interest in learning and be authentic about their own challenges and triumphs to encourage authenticity in others” to ensure that employees feel a sense of group acceptance and value for their individual uniqueness. Notwithstanding this complex expectation, there is little research on the specific qualities of leadership which make a difference to employees’ feelings of inclusion.

Recent research conducted by Dr Cottrill, Associate Professor Lopez and Dr Hoffman (all from the California School of Professional Psychology, Alliant International University), examined whether “authentic” leadership is connected to an employee’s feelings of inclusion, by generating Organisation Based Self Esteem (OBSE) and leading to Organisational Citizenship Behaviour (OCB). By way of definition, employees with high OBSE describe themselves as “important, meaningful, effectual, and worthwhile” to an organisation, whilst those with high levels of OCB display “altruism, conscientiousness, sportsmanship, courtesy and civic virtue”, qualities which go beyond strict role adherence.

In essence the researchers found a strong connection between authentic leadership and individual feelings of inclusion. In particular, higher levels of authentic leadership led to higher levels of OBSE, which in term led to higher levels of OCB.


The aim of the research was to identify relationships (if any) between authentic leadership, inclusion, OBC and OBSE. The researchers developed seven individual hypotheses to tease out the potential individual and cumulative relationships between these factors, for example whether inclusion is correlated with authentic leadership, and whether inclusion is directly related to OCB, or whether inclusion influences OBSE which in turn affects OCB.


The researchers conducted an online survey in two phases to collect their data and test their hypotheses. In the first phase, 107 primary participants were recruited from the researchers’ personal and professional networks in the USA. This yielded a sample that was 52% female, 66% white, 88% heterosexual and with a mean age of 34 years. The sample was highly educated, with all participants working at least part-time in the private sector, a not-for profit or a government agency. Participants self-reported on authentic leadership, inclusion, OCB and OBSE.

In the 2nd phase, 218 peer participants (nominated by the primary participants) were asked to provide data on the OCB displayed by the primary participants (with an average rating of 2.7 peers per primary participant). The demography of the peer group was very similar to the primary participants. The intent behind the second survey was to provide an objective measure of the primary participants’ self-reports on OCB.


The researchers’ primary finding was that authentic leadership influences employees’ feelings of inclusion such that displays of authentic leadership are predictive of employee inclusion. The researchers also found inter-relationships between the key factors, namely:

  1. Authentic leadership predicts OCB
  2. Inclusion predicts OCB
  3. When coupled together there is a stronger relationship, namely OCB is more likely when authentic leadership is displayed and an employee feels included
  4. Inclusion predicts OBSE
  5. OBSE predicts OCB
  6. When coupled together there is a stronger relationship, namely OCB is more likely when an employee feels included and experiences OBSE.

In essence, employees who feel included are more likely to experience greater self-worth as organisational members (OBSE) and are more likely to help their co-workers manage and prevent problems, demonstrate initiative, show up on time, overlook inconveniences and care about their organisations performance (OCB). Hence the results highlight the individual and organisational benefits of creating an inclusive workplace. Moreover, the results indicate that a focus on authentic leadership is the key to enhancing inclusion, OBSE and OCB.


There are a number of implications from this research that both organisations and leaders could consider. Firstly, the research reiterates the importance of leader behaviours in creating an inclusive workplace. Secondly, the findings indicate that the value in focussing on inclusion is linked to individual feelings of self-esteem and therefore the propensity to engage good citizenship behaviours. Thirdly, demonstrating authentic leadership behaviours such as genuinely asking employees for, and respecting, their opinion or unique perspective on organisational issues will enhance employees OCB and OBSE. Of course authentic leadership is not the only factor in promoting an employee’s sense of inclusion, however, this research demonstrates it is a critical factor to be worked on alongside the development of inclusive workplace systems, structures and practices.

To read the full article, see Cottrill, K., Lopez, P. and Hoffman, C. (2014) “How authentic leadership and inclusion benefit organizations” Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: an International Journal, Vol 33, No. 3, pp.275-292

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