Researchers have emphasized the value of authenticity, but not much is known about what makes a person authentic in the eyes of others. Our research takes an interpersonal perspective to examine the determinants of followers’ perceptions of leader authenticity. Building on social identity theory, we propose that two fundamental self-identifications–a leader’s sense of uniqueness and sense of belongingness–interact to influence followers’ perceptions of a leader’s authenticity via perceptions of a leader’s self-concept consistency. In a field study conducted among leader–follower dyads and in a controlled laboratory experiment, we find that when a leader feels a low sense of belongingness, there is a positive relationship between a leader’s sense of uniqueness and perceptions of leader authenticity. When a leader feels a low sense of uniqueness, there is a positive relationship between a leader’s sense of belongingness and perceptions of leader authenticity. This is because followers perceive this leader as having high self-concept consistency.
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A high sense of belongingness is distinct from accepting external influence. As noted earlier, accepting external influence refers to believing one has to accept the influence from others and even conform to their expectations. Belongingness leads to norm internalization, which avoids such enforced influence from others.
It is worth noting that CFI = 1.00 does not indicate perfect, but excellent fit (when df > 1). These fit values result when χ2 < df (Bentler 1990).
Although the figure suggests a pattern that a high sense of uniqueness and belongingness lead to a lower level of perceptions of leaders’ self-concept consistency, simple slope analyses revealed that perceptions of leaders’ self-concept consistency was not significantly different from those of leaders with a high sense of uniqueness and a low sense of belongingness, and those with a low sense of uniqueness and a high sense of belongingness.
We also used the Johnson–Neyman technique Johnson and Neyman (1936) to investigate the nature of the simple slopes in more detail. The relationship between uniqueness and self-consistency was significant and positive at values on belongingness < 3.99; at values ≥ 3.99 on belongingness, there was no significant relationship between uniqueness and self-consistency. This further supports Hypothesis 1.
If perceptions of leader self-concept consistency mediates the interaction between leaders’ sense of belongingness and leaders’ sense of uniqueness on perceptions of leader authenticity, this suggests that the Leaders’ Sense of Belongingness × Leaders’ Sense of Uniqueness interaction significantly predicts perceptions of leader authenticity when perceptions of leader self-concept consistency are not added as a predictor in the equation Shrout and Bolger (2002). OLS regression in which we regressed perceptions of leader authenticity on the main and interactive effects of leaders’ sense of belongingness and leaders’ sense of uniqueness revealed a significant Leaders’ Sense of Belongingness × Leaders’ Sense of Uniqueness interaction (β = − 0.06, t (156) = − 2.06, p = 0.04). The shape of this interaction was such that leaders’ sense of uniqueness positively predicted perceptions of leader authenticity when leaders’ sense of belongingness was low, β = 0.18, t (156) = 3.54, p < 0.001; leaders’ sense of uniqueness did not predict perceptions of leader authenticity when leaders’ sense of belongingness was high (β = 0.06, t (156) = 1.18, p = 0.24).
Given that perceived leader self-concept consistency and perceived leader authenticity were collected simultaneously from the same source, to establish in an unbiased way if the proposed moderated mediation model holds, the error term in the equation used to establish the interaction effect on the mediator should be uncorrelated with the error term in the equation used to establish the effect of mediator on the dependent variable (Shaver 2005). Correlated error terms are possible in the present study for various reasons. First, perceived self-concept consistency and perceived leader authenticity were both indexed by the same respondent leading to potential common method bias. Second, the causal direction between perceived self-concept consistency and perceived leader authenticity may be bidirectional. Third, in addition to being influenced by the independent variables in our study, perceived self-concept consistency and perceived leader authenticity may both be influenced by unmeasured variables, such as the leader’s life storytelling and the leader–follower’s value congruence (Weischer et al. 2013; Williams et al. 2012). Therefore, we used the recommended 2SLS approach.
Consistent with Study 1, we found a significant Leaders’ Sense of Belongingness × Leaders’ Sense of Uniqueness interaction effect on perceptions of leader authenticity (F(1, 98) = 4.93, p = 0.03, η2 = 0.04). The shape of this interaction was such that when sense of belongingness was low, leaders’ high sense of uniqueness led to a significantly higher level of perceived authenticity (M = 4.31, SD = 0.66) than leaders’ low sense of uniqueness did (M = 3.72, SD = 0.65; F(1, 98) = 8.19, p < 0.01, η2 = 0.08). When leaders’ sense of belongingness was high, leaders’ high sense of uniqueness did not lead to a higher level of perceived authenticity (M = 4.63, SD = 0.85) than that of leaders’ low sense of uniqueness (M = 4.69, SD = 0.76; F(1, 98) = 0.08, p = 0.78, η2 = 0.001). Thus, the negative indirect effect we found was not replicated in the direct effect of the interaction on perceptions of leader authenticity.
To test the indirect effect of the leader’s sense of uniqueness × leader’s sense of belongingness (and the two main effects) on perceived leader authenticity, via the consistently estimated effect of perceived self-concept consistency on perceived leader authenticity (see the 2SLS analyses in the text), we used the NLCOM command in STATA. This analysis revealed a significant indirect effect of leader’s sense of uniqueness (b = 0.62, SE = 0.17, z = 3.56, p < 0.001), of leader’s sense of belongingness (b = 1.01, SE = 0.20, z = 5.18, p < 0.001), and, most importantly, of the leader’s sense of uniqueness × leader’s sense of belongingness interaction (b = − 0.90, SE = 0.24, z = − 3.75, p < 0.001). In sum, these analyses support the conclusions drawn from the PROCESS analyses presented in the text.
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All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
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Zheng, M.X., Yuan, Y., van Dijke, M. et al. The Interactive Effect of a Leader’s Sense of Uniqueness and Sense of Belongingness on Followers’ Perceptions of Leader Authenticity. J Bus Ethics 164, 515–533 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-018-4070-4
- Sense of belongingness
- Sense of uniqueness
- Perceived leader authenticity
- Self-concept consistency
- Social identity theory