Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Business)

Schools and Centres


First Supervisor

Professor Hélène de Burgh-Woodman

Second Supervisor

Professor Renee Kohler-Ryan


The purpose of this study is to describe authentic leadership theory (ALT), identify its philosophical limitations regarding the meaning of authenticity and what it is to be authentically human. The study also evaluates the contribution of three thinkers—the existentialists Søren Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger, and the personalist Karol Wojtyła—towards overcoming those limitations.

This study straddles the fields of management and philosophy, combining management concepts regarding authentic leadership with the philosophical traditions of existentialism and personalism, to interrogate authenticity and authentic leadership. It finds that the existentialists Kierkegaard and Heidegger offer a more extensive understanding of authenticity than what the authentic leadership literature recognises. However, neither answers the ultimate questions regarding being authentic persons. Therefore, this study introduces an explicitly personalist thinker—Karol Wojtyła—who focuses on the meaning of the person and the person in relationship with other persons. Ultimately, the study finds the philosophical limitations within ALT cannot be overcome; rather, these limitations are exposed when the meaning of authenticity and what it means to be an authentic person are considered from an existentialist and personalist perspective. What is advanced as ‘authentic leadership theory’ has largely failed to understand the concept of authenticity and authenticity in regard to persons, leaders and leadership.

This study contributes to the disciplines of management and philosophy in several ways. It reveals that in ALT, authenticity is a form of sincere autonomy and, thus, fundamentally in tension with leadership. The concept of fulfillment, which refers to becoming who and what one is, more adequately explains what is sought in authenticity—that persons are fulfilled by taking total responsibility for their choices and their actions. Further, leadership, which involves persons, is an intersubjective action of mutual service, between leader(s) and follower(s), in solidarity with one another for the common good. Thereby, people take full responsibility for themselves, others and their world, which then provides a framework for ethical behaviour. This understanding of leadership can be termed personalist leadership.

Included in

Business Commons