Authentic Leadership in College Sports

Recent concerns about the integrity and transparency of business, politics, and sport leaders is spurring on new research into a framework of authentic leadership. Few empirical studies, however, have tested this theory’s constructs at the individual, group or organizational level. To fill this gap, this paper proposes to research the variables that might affect the perceptions that head coaches have concerning the authentic leadership of athletic directors. What had been a side concern of leadership scholars on the morality of transformational leadership (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999; Price, 2003) became a major discussion among scholars following the corporate scandals of Enron and Arthur Anderson (Patsuris, 2002). A new construct of authentic leadership emerged in both the popular (George, 2003; George & Sims, 2007) and scholarly literature (Luthans & Avolio, 2003; May, Chan, Hodges, & Avolio, 2003). Authenticity, integrity and ethical decision-making have long been considered in executive management (Novicevic, Harvey, Buckley, Brown, & Evans, 2006) and organizational psychology (Harter, 2002). Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (2007, para. 50), known for listening to his critics, underscored its importance to Air Force Academy graduates, “The true measure of your leadership is how you react when the wind leaves your sails and the tide turns against you.” Attempts, however, to define a construct of authentic leadership have met with limited success (Brumbaugh, 1971; Henderson & Hoy, 1983; Terry, 1993; Kernis, 2003). The new construct of authentic leadership draws from more diverse theoretical foundations (Avolio, Gardner, Walumbwa, Luthans, & May, 2004) such as: (a) positive organizational scholarship (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003; Gardner & Schermerhorn, 2004; Luthans, Youssef, & Avolio, 2007); (b) self-awareness, social identity and personal identification among leaders and followers (Bono & Judge, 2003); and (c) ethical leadership behavior (Zhu , May, & Avolio, 2004). The Authentic Leadership Model sees (Avolio & Luthans, 2006; Avolio et al., 2004; Luthans & Avolio, 2003) authenticity as a quality that leaders have in various degrees, perhaps ordered in developmental stages (Eigel & Kuhnert 2005). Avolio, Gardner, and Walumbwa (2005, p. xxiii) write:

Authentic leaders are leaders who: (a) know who they are and what they believe in; (b) display transparency and consistency between their values, ethical reasoning and actions; (c) focus on developing positive psychological states such as confidence, optimism, hope, and resilience within themselves and their associates; (d) are widely known and respected for their integrity.

The authentic-leader-authentic follower relationship that emerges is characterized by follower trust, workplace well-being and veritable, sustainable follower performance (Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, May, and Walumbwa, 2005a). While the concept of authentic leadership development is receiving ample attention (Gardner, Avolio, & Walumbwa, 2005b), few studies have empirically tested its theoretical framework. Scholars recognize there is much work to be done (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; Chan, 2005), including “(1) defining and measuring the construct, (2) determining the discriminant validity of the construct, (3) identifying relevant construct outcomes (i.e., testing the construct’s nomological network), and (4) ascertaining whether authentic leadership can be taught” (Cooper, Scandura & Schriesheim, 2005, p. 477). This study aims to partially fill this gap by empirically testing the authentic leader-authentic follower construct, from the follower’s viewpoint. Based on existing literature, this study will identify the variables that might affect follower perceptions of authentic leadership and propose statistics to test the relationship. This study’s intended population will be sports administrators in the United States, from NCAA Division I institutions. Today’s universities are under increasing pressure to see their athletic program generate finances and enhance their school’s reputation. Athletic directors, in turn, are coming under increased scrutiny by the NCAA and media, due to ethics violations in recruitment and allegations of sexual assault. The ability of athletic directors to relate to external stakeholders and their coaches with openness, transparency, humility, courage, and ethical consistency–in the midst of pressure–is a persistence need. This is especially so in view of increasing costs and declining revenues of sport programs other than college football or basketball (Orszag, J. M., & Orszag, 2005). In specific, this study will examine the extent to which head coaches believe their athletic directors are authentic leaders, and examine the predictor variables of attribution. A study of authentic leadership among sports administrators would fill a vital need, in an area that has received little attention from leadership theory. A similar study among a comparable sample a decade ago demonstrated that transformational leadership was applicable to intercollegiate athletic settings, not only to business (Yusof, 1998). [You have just read the introduction to this paper. The full proposal is not posted here. If you are researching in this field, and would like to work with me on this project, please contact me.


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