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Ideas for Leaders #737

Authentic Leaders Inspire Creativity, Organizational Citizenship and Performance

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Key Concept

A new study confirms that authentic leadership inspires creativity, organizational citizenship and individual performance. The study also explores how creativity and organizational citizenship explains the impact of authentic leadership on individual performance.

Idea Summary

Authentic leadership refers to leaders whose external behaviours and decisions are driven by internal positive values and concern for others. They tend to be self-aware, recognizing their strengths, weaknesses, values and emotions; transparent, presenting their true selves to their followers; and open to unbiased information and the viewpoints of others before making decisions.

Previous research has linked the positive impact of authentic leadership to individual performance as well as organizational performance. Specifically, authentic leadership can boost organizational performance by encouraging employee creativity and organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB). OCB refers to actions that employees take voluntarily (that is, beyond the requirements of their job or position) for the benefit of the organization. Altruism, courtesy, conscientiousness, sportsmanship (understanding the annoyances and inconveniences of organizational life), and civic virtue (being constructively involved in the workplace) are all signs of OCB. 

A new study explored in greater detail the various links between authentic leadership, creativity, OCB and individual performance. The study sought first to confirm that authentic leadership promoted creativity, OCB and individual performance. It then examined the direct impact that creativity and OCB might have on individual performance, before, finally, determining whether creativity and OCB played a role in authentic leadership’s influence on individual performance.

The study was based on surveys of 177 pairs of leaders and followers from 26 small to medium-sized organizations and companies in various sectors, including office supplies, food, construction and automobiles. The researchers asked followers to give their perceptions of their leaders’ authentic leadership, and asked leaders to evaluate their followers’ individual performance, creativity and OCB. The responses of the survey were then statistically analysed to draw the study’s conclusions.

The study confirmed previous findings that:

Authentic leadership increases employee OCB. When employees see their leaders being transparent and honest, they are more satisfied in their jobs, which translates into a positive attitudes and a willingness to engage in OCB. 

Authentic leadership sparks employee creativity. The study confirmed that by fostering a fair and transparent workplace with open relationships, authentic leaders foster an environment that encourages employees to be original and adventurous.

Authentic leadership inspires higher employee performance. Authentic leaders who remain true to their ethical and moral values develop trusting, open relationships with their employees. This foundation of trust along with the authentic leaders’ active support of the development of their followers lead to higher individual performance levels in the organization.

Creativity positively impacts individual performance. Creative individuals tend to be more independent and confident, more open to new ideas and experiences, which increases the quality of their performance.

The study results also show that:

OCB positively impacts individual performance to some extent. Voluntarily helping co-workers, being conscientious, looking for how to help the organization succeed and other facets of OCB pushes employees to succeed in their jobs. However, some facets of OCB, such as courtesy or sportsmanship, did not lead to increased individual performance, according to the survey responses.

Creativity and OCB explains to some extent, but not fully, the link between authentic leadership and individual performance. The researchers confirmed that authentic leadership sparks creativity and OCB. As noted above, however, they also found that OCB has only a partial impact on individual performance. As a result, OCB partially explains why authentic leadership leads to higher performance levels. Authentic leadership’s support and encouragement of creativity offers a stronger explanation of authentic leadership’s impact on individual performance. The bottom line is that a variety of mechanisms, including creativity and OCB, explain why authentic leadership leads to employees and followers performing at higher levels.

Business Application

Based on the study, the researchers suggest that leaders:

  1. Give employees autonomy in choosing their actions, which develops their creativity and performance
  2. Seek out different viewpoints and opinions when making decisions
  3. Admit mistakes, and encourage followers to do the same
  4. Install channels that allows superiors, subordinates and peers to anonymously offer feedback on their leadership and actions
  5. Recognize the values and beliefs of their followers and ensure that the job requirements are congruent with those values and beliefs
  6. Be aware of their own moral weaknesses in the face of outside pressure
  7. Motivate, guide and support their followers in every way to encourage creativity and organizational citizenship.

Human resources functions can also benefit from the lessons of the study by hiring authentic leaders, training and coaching leaders to be more authentic, and including authenticity in the evaluation of leadership performance. Human resources should also ensure that management practices and processes (e.g., compensation criteria) include recognizing and rewarding creativity and organizational citizenship.

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Idea conceived

  • April 2018

Idea posted

  • April 2019

DOI number



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