Let’s face it — real people are very attractive people.
Their honesty has us feeling respected. Their candour has us feeling valued. And their authenticity has us trusting them.
We feel good about ourselves when we’re authentic — and we like it when others are authentic with us.
When there’s mutual authenticity in a conversation, the conversation is truly meaningful.
We feel good. We feel connected. It feels real.
Authenticity gets a good rap, doesn’t it?
In his book Authentic: How To Be Yourself & Why It Matters, psychologist Stephen Joseph states that authenticity is a deep-seated need for us all, saying:
“We are born to be authentic. Authenticity is our natural state. However, balancing the process of realising one’s own needs while living together with others, and meeting the needs of those relationships, is not always straightforward.” 2
I remember, years ago, I watched a video of Peter Senge, the American Systems Scientist and author of the widely read and revered book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.3
As soon as the video started, I was enthralled by Senge. He was exceptionally present and authentic. (I think of people like him as being “clean” — washed of any contamination, ego, and overt self-interest.)
His authenticity dramatically increased my receptivity to his message. And I liked him and trusted him.
The more people feel respected and valued by you, and the more they trust you, the greater success you’ll experience as a senior executive (and as a person on the planet, too).
What Does Authenticity Look Like?
Authenticity is being who you are, being candid with your thoughts and feelings, yes. But it’s more than that, isn’t it?
It’s also about:
- Accepting yourself.
Self-acceptance is fully accepting yourself for who you are. Forgiving yourself for anything you’re not proud of. Having zero defensiveness about you.
- Freely expressing relevant information about yourself
— when it’s appropriate to do so. Imagine if someone could hear a recording of what was going on in your head — a recording that alerts them to your pertinent thoughts, emotions, beliefs, goals, and preferences. When you’re being fully authentic, nothing they hear on this recording would surprise them.
I suggest that you hold off from disclosing grotty stuff until you’ve developed a good rapport and allowed a trusting relationship to develop :).
- Being present, in the moment, with the other person
— allowing a connection to occur. Being entirely curious about them and their world is useful here.
- Taking an “I’m okay, you’re okay” stance.
Being non-judgemental is a crucial part of authenticity.
What Stops You From Being Authentic?
Abraham Maslow, in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, said, “Most of us have learned to avoid authenticity. You may be in the middle of a fight, and your guts are writhing with anger, but if the phone rings, you pick it up and sweetly say hello.” 4
The culture is rife with politics in many organisations. When there’s a lot of this sort of “glossing over” in the workplace, executives (and others) find it’s more difficult to be authentic.
When people around you aren’t authentic, it often feels easier to go with the flow.
Don’t! Don’t let your surroundings stop you in your quest to be a contemporary, authentic executive.
When you’re tempted to be inauthentic, a self-protective strategy will have kicked in.
It might be that you’re…
- Attempting to hide a perceived inadequacy or something you’re not proud of.
- Thinking that, as a leader, you need to wear a tough mask in the male-dominated leadership realm that you’re in.
- Habitually shying away from communicating intimately.
- Thinking that you need to conform to a style of leadership that doesn’t include authenticity.
- Compelled to masquerade as someone else (perhaps another executive in your organisation).
- Wondering if “the real you” isn’t up for your executive role
A lack of authenticity is often related to how confident you feel about you.
The Costs Of You Not Being Fully Authentic
Several unwanted situations potentially kick in when you’re not fully authentic — situations that you can’t afford if you intend being known as an indispensable, world-class leader.
- Ghandi, Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma). Gandhi: An Autobiography — The Story of My Experiments With Truth. Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1993. Print.
- Joseph, Stephen. Authentic: How To Be Yourself & Why It Matters. London: Piatkus, 2016. Print.
- Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Doubleday/Currency. 1990. Print.
- Maslow, Abraham. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Penguin. 1993. Page 83.