The Two Wings of Leadership

There are a lot of thoughts, theories, and suggestions about leadership. A lot.


To demonstrate this, all one has to do is Google “leadership” and see the millions of hits that return in less than a second. The expanse of leadership theories and topics is quite broad.


Why are there so many theories and foci in leadership?


Because there so many different types of people in leadership.


People are both leaders and followers, and the multiplicity of personalities in possible combination calls for many explanations and combinations of tools.


There are a few prominent leadership theories, one of which is transformational leadership theory.


As an introvert, transformational leadership doesn’t sit squarely with my personality.


One of the strongly correlated personality traits for successful transformational leadership is extroversion, which has been referred to as charisma, or an “inspiring bearing” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamcraig/2019/01/31/8-must-have-transformational-leadership-qualities/?sh=1a48410e1117 ).


Since 25-56% of the world leans toward introversion (depending on which source is being referenced), that leaves a lot of us out of the leadership ring.


In my research, I came across a theory that debunks the notion that leadership requires extroversion. This theory doesn’t require a specific personality or individual tendencies. It simply asks for authenticity outlined in four constructs represented by behaviors anyone can practice and learn.


It is called authentic leadership theory.


Arriving on the scene in early 2000s amidst a plethora of existing leadership theories, the valid question was raised as to whether authentic leadership theory was actually different than existing leadership theories.


In 2008, the question was answered in a seminal article published by Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing, and Peterson, which found authentic leadership theory statistically significant and able to stand separate from other theories.


The four constructs of authentic leadership theory are:

  1. Self-awareness

  2. Internalized moral perspective

  3. Relational transparency

  4. Balanced processing


What really resonates about authentic leadership theory is the constructs can be acquired by anyone who puts their mind to learning them. They are ubiquitous in their acquisition and use, yet support sustained individuality.

If we break down the four constructs, it becomes clear that the first two are about the leader themselves, and the last two are about relationships the leader has with those around them.


Leader focus:

  1. Self-awareness

  2. Internalized moral perspective


Other focus:

  1. Relational transparency

  2. Balanced processing

Two sets of wings, if you will.


Did you know the dragonfly can outmaneuver any other flying insect? It’s true. Their adept moving patterns are attributed to their two sets of wings - forewings and hindwings.

The dragonfly needs the power of the forewings coupled with the agility of the hindwings in order to capture its main course meal: mosquitoes and other flighty pests. It is the working together of the two sets of wings that gives the dragonfly the ease of maneuverability in order to accomplish necessary tasks.


In the same way, leaders need to simultaneously focus on self and others.

This is the foundation of great leadership. Being with requires the inward and outward focus, the forewings and hindwings.


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