In preparing to write this article I asked my partner Karin what the word authenticity meant to her and the first thing she said was “Being true to yourself”. I then looked up various dictionary definitions and found the following: “The quality of being real or true” (Cambridge University), “Sincere and authentic with no pretensions” (Merriam Webster) and “The quality or state of being authentic; reliability; genuineness.” (Collins).
Authenticity also happens to be one of my three core values in life. It is the third skill in the GENOS Model of Emotional Intelligence. And as Laura Vanderkam wrote recently in Fast Company, “It’s a hot word in leadership discussions these days.” And it should be! In these times of media and political disingenuity and manipulation are not people desperate to be led by leaders who are authentic?
So what’s it like being around someone who’s authentic? Typically you feel refreshed, excited, energized and alive! This is because the energy of that person is clean and relatively uncluttered. By this I mean that she or he is not efforting to impress, to get your approval, to control you and so on. There’s no ‘agenda’ so you don’t feel manipulated, or only given a certain degree of truth and openness. And you feel comfortable to be more yourself in that person’s presence. That leader’s authenticity is giving you permission to liberate yourself and be free too. You resonate to it: there’s a relief in not having to be anything other than true to yourself and others
As we know in business, as in life, trust is crucial. And it’s a lot easier to trust someone who is authentic than someone who is holding back or not being open and straightforward.
So if you’re in a leadership role you will generate trust, loyalty and commitment if you exhibit these characteristics. You will create an environment of minimal fear and distrust that enables people to blossom and give of their best because you are being an exemplar of authenticity.
What is it about authentic leaders that makes them so attractive and magnetic? They set the standard for inspiration, charisma, trust and self-realization. We admire them and are drawn to them. We want to be around them and feel most alive when we are. They do not spend their time using up a lot of their energy in NOT being themselves; instead they maximize their energy in being effective without being held back by trying to do ‘the right thing’ or being false or fake.
All great so far. But being authentic is not about giving yourself licence to ‘be real’ without consideration for the feelings of others. Simply venting or expressing anger because you’re being authentic doesn’t necessarily lead to positive results. The key is to be ‘Skillfully Authentic’. We all know people who are authentically wild and eccentric but that doesn’t usually lead to success in the boardroom or client meeting! You need to be appropriate to each situation and make wise decisions about how you manifest your truth.
When it comes to the behaviors associated with authenticity and how they relate to the corporate world the GENOS six part model of Emotional Intelligence is particularly instructive. The third skill in the GENOS wheel is Authenticity which “Is about openly and effectively expressing oneself, honoring commitments and encouraging this behavior in others. It involves honestly expressing specific feelings at work, such as happiness and frustration, providing feedback to colleagues about the way you feel, and sharing emotions at the right time, to the right degree, and to the right people. People high in authenticity are often described as “genuine’ whereas people low in this skill are often described as ‘untrustworthy’.”
People say “But surely if you’re tailoring your communication to your audience you’re not being authentic”. Not so. If you accept that the primary definition of authenticity is to be true to yourself then you can know your truth and then make choices about what to do with that truth. If your intentions are good and you’re being genuine to yourself then you’re being skillfully authentic in the best sense – choosing actions and communication that are designed to achieve the best possible outcome for everyone involved.
The heart of authenticity is being true to yourself and then expressing that externally to the world in a skillful and constructive way.
Given that authenticity is such a key attribute of great leadership why do so many struggle to be that way? And how can one be more authentic?
I’m afraid there’s no magic bullet. It can take years to become confident enough in yourself to be your authentic self. Many report that as they grow older they care less about what others think of them. They start relaxing and letting go of their youthful attempts to impress, appear strong, gain approval, manipulate their way to success and countless other strategies that are borne out of insecurity and fear.
But if you apply yourself you can accelerate authenticity and become a better leader.
Here are some tips:
- Acknowledge your truth to yourself. This requires constant practice and vigilance but the reward is that you become more genuine towards others.
- Be conscious of your own tendency to self deceive; notice the tricks your mind plays on you.
- Be conscious of your truth and how you sometimes avoid acting on it.
- Be courageous about expressing your truth.
- And remember, don’t try to be like anyone else!