Rowland, Caroline and Pyke, Chris orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-6576-2709 (2019) DEVELOPING ORGANIZATIONS: AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP THROUGH ACTION LEARNING. In: BUSINESS MANAGEMENT THEORIES AND PRACTICES IN A DYNAMIC COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT. EuroMed Academy of Business Conference Book of Proceedings . EuroMed Press, France, pp. 1827-1829. ISBN 978-9963-711-81-9

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“What is an honest man and how can I become one?” Revans ( 9 : 32)
As the rate of change within society and organizations has accelerated, there is an increased need for more positive forms of leadership, in which actual conduct of the leader is in line with their espoused principles. As a consequence, leaders are faced with the growing challenge of increasing their individual personal and professional capabilities with fewer resources and less time. Action learning with its core premise of improving the individual’s ability to learn is well positioned to take advantage
of changing leadership development needs. In addition to developing bespoke leadership skills, action learning is effective in developing the competences of collaboration, conflict resolution and sharing skills that are essential for contemporary leaders (Sonpar et al., 2018). As Revans (1998:14) commented “there can be no action without learning and no learning without action.” Leaders who are engaged in meaningful action with enquiry and reflection invariably learn. Baron (2016:296) states “Although exercising Authentic Leadership clearly involves the manager’s personal skills, it appears that, despite their importance, such skills are largely ignored by academic training programs, or otherwise addressed with a largely theoretical approach that does not allow for the sort of feedback needed between practice and reflection, making it difficult to acquire and develop these critical skills.”
Leadership during periods of uncertainty has an important role in business strategy. The purpose of this paper is to explore the extent to which authentic leadership may be developed through action learning and how this might contribute to organizational effectiveness in times of austerity and rapid change.
Much has been written concerning leadership styles and practice (Bass and Bass, 2008). It is widely accepted that leadership has a crucial role in the success of organizations. Little has been explored in relation to action learning and authentic leadership yet poor relationships between leaders, managers and others is a major barrier to performance and creativity (Rowland and Hall, 2013).
The methods used in this research were mainly based on the interrogation of literature. This comprised a review of published works on action learning and authentic leadership focusing on management development This was followed by an analysis of documents produced by regulatory and professional bodies (AMBA, 2015; CIPD, 2010; CMI, 2013) to identify the skills and behaviours embedded in mainstream management programmes such as the MBA and DBA.
The authors, in their roles as external examiners and accreditation panel members or chairs for over 25 years, have drawn on their experiences. Over the last three years they have been directly involved with some 20 UK Universities from a wide spectrum including, former polytechnics and research-intensive institutions, where management curricula reflect the requirements of these regulatory accreditation and professional bodies. Direct observations by the authors and two small purposive employer and employee focus groups were also employed to gather data.
Our findings indicate that employees prefer their leaders to lead consistently with integrity, authenticity and passion which align to their own and family values. It supports the view that Organizations value leadership that matches rhetoric with meaningful actions.
Findings also show an absence of both academic and professional body literature that have linked the constructs of authentic leadership and action learning together. As such, the developmental opportunity remains neglected. Management development processes have focused on developing individuals but perhaps neglected achieving lasting organizational development through leadership.
Conclusions suggest that in the current climate of uncertainty many leaders are adopting austerity approaches. These are in turn leading to higher levels of deviant organizational behaviours, risk-averse practices, inauthentic kindness and a decline in efficiency, effectiveness and productivity. Yet in times when clear vision and leadership in business strategy and values is needed at both national and global levels, an understanding of how to better develop authentic leadership remains underdeveloped and action learning remains marginalized. In addition the implications for future trust and employee
engagement are neglected in times where discretionary effort of workers and volunteers is crucial to goal achievement. Leaders have to spend more of their pressured time attempting to bring certainty to uncertain times by communicating and negotiating with staff to gain a wider acceptance and understanding of management practices (Herzig and Jimieson, 2006). Time is now an emotional as well as an economic currency; an authentic leader recognises that spending time with employees
demonstrates that they have individual intrinsic value as well as acknowledging their contribution to the organization as a whole. Our work above all concludes that although authentic leadership development may cost in terms of emotional and temporal investment, action learning can be useful and ethical behaviours within leaders and organizations. Leaders need courage to lead with compassion and help navigate in these turbulent and uncertain times. There is hitherto, an unrealized
opportunity to capitalize on the promotion of action learning as a development tool; by acknowledging that the learning process has implications for enhancing a more authentic form of leadership practice.
Our research opens up the discussion and offers a template that may enable Organizations to increase their sustainability and competitive advantage. This paper provides additional insights and promotes dialogue between disciplines that has hitherto been neglected.
In terms of practice our research enables Organizations to appreciate the benefits of developing authentic leaders in terms of both the “bottom line” and good citizenship. Consequently, it may help leaders formulate organizational policies that not only enable navigation through the whirlpools and rapids of uncertain times but also ensure healthy workplace cultures that stimulate creativity, employee engagement and sustainability.

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