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?