If I asked your friends about your authenticity, what might they say? Would they have to think about it or would they respond straight out about how genuine you are?
I have seen authenticity defined as real or genuine; not copied or false; true and accurate and the one I liked best in the context of this article came from Wikipedia where it describes that in the philosophy of existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures. I love it. It goes exactly to where I’d like to take this.
So Who Are You Really?
Who do you need to be, to be your authentic self? What do you really stand for? When it comes down to what really matters in your life, what are you prepared to stand up for and what might you simply “fall for”? Also, how aware are you of your authenticity and where it shows and when it doesn’t?
Posing this philosophical question, are you struggling to respond, maybe finding it somewhat intellectual? Or could you confidently rattle off a few key attributes that clearly outline what your “true north” reflects?
Have you used words like honest, having integrity, being genuine, transparent, consistent, reliable, trustworthy? And if challenged, how would we know whether they are true of you and your behaviour or not, and how might you defend or qualify them?
Rhetoric, Spin, Lies and Truth – a Fine Line
I can’t remember an Australian Federal budget causing as much voter division and outright outrage than the last one. Why? Because significant components of its content were perceived to be a substantial departure from what was promised during the preceding election. The word “lies” was all over the media and in most conversations and the examples used drove home with ample proof how little in the eyes of the electorate, politicians could be trusted.
I believe what really got people upset, me included, was how difficult it was made for anyone to decipher the real facts and to differentiate truth from “spin” or rhetoric. Was I the only one to feel this, or did it appear to be just as badly perpetrated by both major parties?
In the context of authenticity, the ensuing debates with politicians across the board were perfect examples of an absolute lack of it, leaving a bad taste in most people’s mouths, that it was becoming impossible to know who to believe and who to trust.
Authenticity Is Felt, Isn’t It?
However, if we move from the political field into the business field, is what we find really that different?
Whilst I do believe there is one significant difference, namely that the degree of deceit evident here would actually be punished in the corporate arena, I think this “rhetoric illness” is alive and well in the business.
How often have you watched, listened to or read communications from your leader where they “said all the right things”, but yet you felt uninspired, unimpressed and unconvinced of all the strong words, passion behind what looked to be rhetoric? You could “feel it”, couldn’t you? I think we have all experienced that. It is this “feeling” of authenticity that makes the difference between an act and being the real thing.
Conversely, we have all experienced presentations that quite obviously “came from the heart”, and whilst they might have employed the same stage tactics as the previous point, you could feel that this was a genuine communication. The difference? Well, I believe you can’t fake genuine, unconscious level authenticity, no matter how good an actor you are. I have learned that when it is present, authenticity is felt to be genuine both by the deliverer and the receiver.
I have said so often across so many blogs over the years, it is one’s track record that proves that we are “fair dinkum”; not just one or more solitary acts, no matter how brilliantly it is prepared, stage managed and pulled off.
Think about it. When you are asked to participate in a role play – what do you think it is we are afraid of? Firstly of course, it is usually our innate fear of being made to feel like a fool in front of those we need and want to impress. But I reckon it is also because we know we are going to have to playact something we normally aren’t, right?
When I coach my clients in preparation for an interview, we often find those that they were able to best just “be who they are” were the ones that went best. Trying to be something or somebody they think they ought better to be in order to impress the interviewer doesn’t really work, does it?
The truth will set you free, it is said. Being able to be yourself brings the same liberating feeling, doesn’t it? Being authentically you. Why? Because that’s who we really are. Not having to try to be something you aren’t, which can be quite exhausting, can’t it?
Toeing The Line
However, everybody that has been in a position of leadership over others in a company will have experienced situations where politically they had to represent a position that wasn’t their own, right? Everybody. Where we had to “toe the party line”, whether we wanted to or believed in that specific situation or not. This is where the feeling (or actually the absence of it) of authenticity was probably felt most, where deep down we felt that we were being pressured into our “true north” being betrayed in the name of “the greater good”. Been there, done that, haven’t we?
Not a good feeling is it? But every so often it is a reality. I wrote about this in “Doing The Right Thing” where everyone “will have their price” where they will have little or no option but to “toe the line”, however, once this becomes clear that it is going to re-occur and become expected behaviour, I think is where most of us will “draw the line” and bale out, right?
Authenticity and Influence – Oxymoron?
Using NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) I teach my clients very advanced communication and influencing techniques around the building and strengthening of rapport. These take our unconscious level signalling into account and are very powerful means with which we can “win people over“.
Yeah, even manipulating I hear some of you think. So how does that fit with authenticity?
The way I see it I’m not asking any of my clients to be anything but themselves in this approach. What is different is that all the communication attention is directed towards observing the person they are communicating with so as to notice their preferred traits and styles of communication which are then matched and mirrored, which their unconscious level mind registers and feeds to them the notion: “hey, I like this person – they are speaking my language”. No need for any contortion or having to be anything you aren’t.
However, we need to clearly draw the line to when we embark on manipulation. I don’t believe that is possible when we are in our “true north”.
Authenticity and Leadership
Nowhere is the topic of authenticity more spoken about than in the context of leadership. Referring back to “authenticity being felt” most people we lead can see through contrived behaviour and recognize “spin” trying to mask authenticity. Consistency of personal style creates a track record which people learn to trust. We all know how long it takes to build trust and how quickly it can be broken, often with dire relationship consequences, be it in the personal sphere or with clients or subordinates.
The other critical aspect is transparency. Honesty isn’t only about what is said (and how its said) but also what’s not said. This is where the political rant I had above frustrates so much in that the population isn’t told the full story, only the angle what the agenda (or the media) want the viewers or listeners or readers to “take home”. The same applies in business where trust can often be broken when staff or clients (or bosses) pick up that the leaders were “a little ambiguous with the truth”.
So Can Our Authenticity Always “Be Switched On”?
I spoke above about awareness. It is well known that trying to break a habit for example, that we need to create an awareness trigger by which we can notice we are about to invoke an old pattern we are trying to remove or replace and leverage that awareness as the reminder to stop what we were about to perpetrate, right? I find this can be just as well applied to the maintenance of our “being who we are”, which includes our being authentic, or genuine. This will be particularly prevalent when we are leading and working with other people, internal or external to our business, whatever the media we are using to communicate.
We all need to learn how to create such awareness triggers, so that at least when it really matters, we are able to consciously choose to act authentically. Over time of course that simply becomes habit and forms part of who we (always) are. When clients use coaches in order to “be the me I really want to be“, addressing authenticity will always form part of that process.
So let me ask you. On a scale of 1-10, how high would you rate your every day work-life authenticity? How aware are you of your language and your behaviour towards those around you, work or play?
And going back to my original introductory question, what might your friends and associates say if I asked them? Would their rating be very different from yours do you think? Go on, why not ask them?
This is an area in which coaches have helped many people polish their leadership skills. Whether you are leading a project, an initiative, a team, a department or an organisation, don’t you think having this vital aspect of your leadership skill in the spotlight and supported and enhanced by some unbiased 3rd party professional help could significantly raise your standing amongst your constituents and stakeholders?
What if you could?
Heiner Karst says
In a local Rotary International leadership development program I help run with 2 colleagues, one of them shares beautifully how in our Australian (business) culture, a strong “BS-meter” prevails. Leaders aren’t accepted simply because they were appointed. In this model, leaders first have to earn the right to lead others by showing over a period of time that they walk their talk. The BS meter and subsequent gossip quickly separates what’s deemed to be authentic and what’s BS. And with real live consequences. Colourful? Yes. Simple and powerful reality? Yes again.
Steve Carey says
Hmm… Do we go with the evidence or with what we feel? I’m for the evidence: you’re for the gut.
For one thing, the evidence is that what we feel is largely illusory! We imagine we feel most of what happens: we don’t. We miss most of it. We imagine that what we feel corresponds to some external reality: it doesn’t.
Of course I’m not saying that people should deny their feelings, or not listen to their desire to change and seek ‘authenticity.’ What I’m saying is that currently there’s a strong bias in favour of feeling (the bottom two thirds of our brain, basically) at the expense of intellect (the top third). Worse, this bias in favour of feeling actually overlooks the evidence that we’re completely unaware of massive amounts of what’s going on around us!
Here’s a glimpse: http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/priming. Or here’s that famous basketball selective attention test video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo.
Anyhoo. As the good Bishop Smith said, walking down a narrow lane where two women were shout at each other from a window in a building on one side to a window on the other: ‘I fear they will never agree: they’re arguing from different premises.’
Steve Carey says
For the first time reading your excellent blog I’m moved to disagree. So much that’s been learned in psychology and other disciplines (neuroscience, epigenetics, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology) in the past half century has undermined this notion of ‘authenticity,’ and I’m increasingly convinced it’s an unhelpful and outmoded concept.
There IS no authentic self. People can and do change. We are much, much, MUCH more influenced by our surroundings than ever we realise – look at all the evidence about priming as proof of this. Further, as Milgram and Zimbardo demonstrated forty years ago, humans are capable of the most horrendous acts if the circumstances are ‘right.’ And we don’t see much evidence that we have one true single self, but rather identities for each of our contexts. I sincerely doubt, for example, whether Heiner in the pub is the same as Heiner in the boardroom: I hope not! Look back at Ernest Hilgard’s work on the hidden observer as one example of our multiple, variable selves, co-existing within us and apparently unknown to each other.
Talking about authenticity leads – or should I say misleads – us into thinking that we are stable single self determining our own behaviour uninfluenced by our circumstances. None of these things is true, and believing – or rather misbelieving – in them leads us to mistaken notions of our limitations and possibilities.
Heiner Karst says
Whilst I acknowledge that some of your observations prevail in the main Steve, I am comfortable that we agree to disagree here.
In my work I’m feeling a surge of (not just young) people that long for genuine, not just espoused values evident in their leaders that seeks meaning way beyond the very prevalent “profits before people” notion. And the younger ones won’t tolerate the lack – they vote with their feet.
Of course the masses aren’t as aware of their alignment with their values, and probably don’t care for that much, making what you outline relevant. It is the relevant few I am (coaching and) addressing with this post that are looking to try.
Maybe we are also taking this word too literally black and white?
Whilst the language, presence and behavior in the pub is more relaxed than in the boardroom I would hope that the values driving who I am remain fundamentally consistent. WYSIWYG.
francoise Garnier says
Steve, I agree with you that as we grow and mature we are influenced by our life experiences, however our core values don’t necessarily change. Mine haven’t; I became more aware of them, defined them more clearly, and I express them in a more deliberate way. When I failed to hear the alarm bells and identify early a values conflict or when I felt forced to “compromise” a little for survival, the result was neither enjoyable nor successful. For me personally, integrity/ authenticity/ alignment with my values does matter.
I hope that our behaviours will be different at play and at work, otherwise we could be very boring to others! I think that different circumstances allow us to express complementary facets of ourselves rather than conflicting ones.
Of course there are sad/horrible cases of people doing terrible things suddenly. Maybe they have aligned with their negative values and/or recognised the hierarchy of their values…. That does not make the concept of authenticity out-dated nor unhelpful.
And as a marketer, I value the concept of authenticity. If you don’t express your brand values in a consistent manner, you miss opportunities to engage with your ideal customers – those who need your brand and who are aligned with your values. If you forget, you pay the price! Most politicians keep forgetting. Their brands have zero credibility and respect. Of course, some are more authentic; if their values and mine are not aligned, whilst I still will not like them, at least I will respect them.
francoise Garnier says
Great considerations, Heiner. Awareness is essential, of the perceptions we create, of how we can fine-tune our communication. And first all all, awareness of the quality of our personal “alignment”. For me, “alignment” is the fundamental word; alignment to our personal passion, beliefs, values. When that exists, personal energy is high and can felt by all. Then we can create any kind of effective communication, and manage its details to ensure painless consistency across media, time and topics, and “authenticity”.
When we choose who will be our employer, who will be our team, what brand we will represent and grow etc, we need to ensure that every choice we make does not compromise long term alignment for a short term convenience. Those compromises put authenticity, integrity, effectiveness and our ability to enjoy life (at work and at home) at risk every day with every application detail.
Filiz Tigli says
I tend to agree with both people who have shared their thoughts here on Authenticity. I think since we are so much more aware of our behaviors and how we can influence and communicate effectively to get the outcomes we desire, then it does become a put on behavior and whether that it authentic or not can be argued I guess.
However, I also agree more strongly with Francoise’s comment as I can identify more with it. I like to think that whatever I do and however I behave first and foremost is aligned to my personal values of being genuine and desire to connect and communicate with people in the most truest and honest way I can. Therefore, I like that word “Authentic”. I like to think that I am and I would most honesty believe that people who know me would describe me as same – would you Heiner?