4 Ways to Deliver Genuine Authenticity
Instagram “broke us” says a recent Vox article. The social networking service has warped our “perception of reality over the past almost-decade,” motivating people to “perform” a lifestyle while simultaneously convincing those watching that the performance is real.
I’m convinced “celebrity CEOs” have done the same thing to people’s perceptions of leadership.
Instagram and many celebrity CEOs showcase style over substance. People eat it up—and believe it, accepting calculated authenticity as an acceptable means to the end of self-promotion.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an 18th-century philosopher and novelist, provided the first full expression of authenticity. He defined it as having an original and unique self, one that we discover by “finding” and expressing ourselves, sometimes despite social conventions.
Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor and former Medtronic CEO, is often credited as being the creator of the authentic leadership approach to management. He describes authentic leaders this way:
“People of the highest integrity, commitment to building enduring organizations… who have a deep sense of purpose and are true to their core values who have the courage to build their companies to meet the needs of all their stakeholders, and who recognize the importance of their service to society.” ~Bill George, Authentic Leadership
There isn’t much about showmanship or branding in either of these definitions. The word authentic comes from the Greek word, authentikos, which means original or genuine. Authentikos comes from the word authentes, which means one acting on one’s own authority, doing so in the fashion of the Greek cardinal virtues:
- Prudence—wisdom in considering all the possible courses of action and acting in a fair-minded manner;
- Temperance—having self-discipline and staying emotionally balanced;
- Justice—dealing with other people fairly and transparently; and
- Fortitude—having courage to do the right thing.
How many celebrity CEOs do we hear talking about these topics? Not many. Why not? For lots of wide-ranging reasons:
- It’s much sexier to talk about innovation and successful outcomes.
- The temptation to say what people want to hear. “Likes” are the name of the social game.
- An increasing tolerance for boastful immodesty.
- Unbounded authenticity is off-putting.
- Acceptance of using calculated authenticity as a commercial strategy and branding device.
Authenticity and the virtues it is built on are important—80% of employees say its presence improves the workplace.
So, how can a character-based leader deliver genuine authenticity? There are many ways, but these four methods stand out.
Avoid hidden agendas.
If something is important to you, talk about it openly, tactfully, and gracefully. Don’t be manipulative in pursuit of your passion project. If you have performance expectations, articulate them. Invite the elephant in the room to dance. Make the work environment one where people feel safe enough to be open.
Don’t confuse realness with rudeness.
I once had a boss who justified his rudeness and contempt as being authentic, saying, “I’m just being myself; deal with it.” Being genuine isn’t permission to be a jerk. “Authenticity is not a license to be excessively focused on the self. It’s about being aligned with your character and values in order to lead effectively. That takes work,” says Brooke Vuckovic, a lecturer at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Be mindful of context and people’s feelings. Kindness never goes out of style.
To assure that you’re being your most genuine, monitor your actions and reactions in the same way you monitor your business results. Be mindful of succumbing to the pressure to conform. Watch for signs of being insincere or biased and make corrections immediately when they appear. As author H. Jackson Brown, Jr., puts it: “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards, or sideways.” Ask for feedback to assure you’re moving in the right direction.
Always, always, always be courageous.
It’s a mean ole world out there, and competition for “likes” and being top of mind is fierce. It takes courage to do the right thing. To be kind. To genuinely connect because you’re interested. To not give in to the temptation to play to the crowd. To ignore the pressure to conform. To be genuinely sincere. Be compassionate and bold in using your realness in service to others, not yourself.
“Everything will line up perfectly when knowing and living the truth becomes more important than looking good.” ~Alan Cohen, author
Calculated authenticity build distrust and encourages “me-focused,” sometimes cutthroat, competition. Genuine authenticity builds commitment, engagement, and trust through performance that’s real, not manipulated.
The choice is ours.