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Self-categorisation theory

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© University of Southern Queensland

Self-categorisation theory explores authentic leadership from the perspective of the pursuit of individual and collective interests. As you move from being a colleague or friend to a leader, you move from having individual or smaller group interests to working for a larger collective good.

Steffens et al. (2016) set out to test if team members’ perceptions of their leader’s authenticity was partly shaped by the their perceptions of the leader’s relationship to a collective identity and the followers’ own relationship to that identity (2016, p. 727). This is made a little clearer in the following abstract:

Growing evidence points to the role of authentic leadership in enhancing followership. Yet little is known about the factors that determine whether followers perceive leaders as displaying authentic leadership. In the present research, we examine the impact of leaders’ championing of collective (group) interests on authentic leadership.
Study 1 shows experimentally that compared to a leader who advances personal interests, a leader who advances the interests of a collective is (a) perceived as offering more authentic leadership and (b) more likely to inspire followership….
In sum, findings suggest that leaders are regarded as more authentic to the extent that they are true to the collective identity of the group that they lead.

(Steffens et al., 2016, p. 726)

The research found team members regard leaders to be more authentic when:

  • they are seen to be advocates of the collective good and the people they lead.
  • leaders champion the collective interests, which translates into people’s willingness to follow them (see Steffens et al, 2016).

This helps us to understand that if leaders are true to their purpose and genuinely want to build relationships, they will act within the collective interests of the broader group by not favouring some at the expense of many others. You can see how this is relevant as you move from being friends with a select group to working for the collective interest.

It also highlights the importance of leaders creating positive emotions, understanding that effective leaders aim to do this for all of their staff, not a select few.

Steffens, N. K., Mols, F., Haslan, S. A., & Okimoto, T. G. (2016). True to what we stand for: Championing collective interests as a path to authentic leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 27(5), 726–44. doi:
© University of Southern Queensland
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