When I started my PhD in 2010, Britain was in the grips of recession, and the banking crisis loomed large in most peoples' minds, along with the perceived unethical behaviours of the corporate leaders behind these, and other, institutional failings. Authentic leadership had come to the fore as the proposed solution for the crisis in modern leadership practices, and had gained considerable traction at both academic and popularist levels, even though it lacked conceptual clarity and cohesion. My study took a different road to the existing positivist theories and aimed to understand the meaning of authentic leadership as a construct that exists ‘in the eyes of the beholder’, that is, as an attribute conferred on leaders by followers. This case study examines how I used repertory grids qualitatively to unearth subordinate leaders' implicit theories of authentic leadership and its experiential value, if any. It offers a practical insight into the development and application of this method to achieve a complex set of research aims.