This article presents a reflexive auto-ethnography of the experience of teaching authentic leadership to MBA students. It traces parallels between the challenges of authentic leadership and the challenges of academic identity work, grounded specifically in the experience of having to teach something one does not fully endorse. Both authentic leadership and academic identity work emerge as struggle – riddled with false starts, best intentions and self-deception, and entwined in the politics of pragmatism, idealism, ambition and survival. The subject position of the mature entrant to academia who is also an ‘early career scholar’ is likened to an awkward adolescent, experimenting with shades of independence/dependence, resistance/compliance and voice/silence. Based on these reflections, having authentic leadership on the curriculum involves a particular kind of identity regulation for students and academics alike, running counter to philosophical notions of authenticity as striving for one’s own way in the world. Authentic leadership will only flourish in the business school if academics muster the courage to acknowledge its relevance for our own role as teacher-leaders, rather than simply teaching or writing to its abstract, ideological appeal.
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