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Whirling Chief

Want to be a better manager?
Better be authentic!

Today let’s talk, shall we, about what it means to be an authentic leader. The concept of ‘authenticity’ is one that’s become very popular in corporate America (and corporate Everywhere!). One thing that often surprises me is when I hear it referred to as a standalone concept. In your personal life it may be okay to consider the concept alone, but in organizational terms it needs to be considered in balance with ‘productivity.’ Allow me to explain…

Within organizations, ‘authenticity’ is cherished alone and independent from ‘productivity’ and its measures, and people are intrinsically rewarded for “being true to themselves.” This means even if productivity comes at a cost, people are rewarded for doing what they believe is right. This sort of reward behavior can create a cult-like culture over time, resulting in a place where people either fit in or don’t, and productivity likely suffers in the long haul.

Of course, in reverse, there needs to be a balance within organizations that value ‘productivity’ as a number one value. Putting emphasis on productivity, with no attention or respect for authenticity, is no good either. It rewards behaviors that can create a soulless culture, where human beings are just numbers. Balance is needed.

But what does it mean to be authentic?

First of all, we should all know ‘authenticity’ is not a static state that can be achieved nor perfected; it is a dynamic state. It is an evolving force that is in us and is bound to change over time. We cannot control it.

Think of it like this: When we are born, we are completely authentic. When we are hungry, we cry, when we wet ourselves, we wail for a diaper change, etc. Over time, as we age, we become shaped by social norms and start losing touch with our most basic, inner needs. At some point, we, the social human, find ourselves so ‘other-oriented’ that we can no longer hear the voices of our inner thoughts and feelings. For example, I may be upset with a friend of mine who said something I found hurtful to hear. But when asked, I may answer, “I’m fine,” or, “Nothing is wrong,” thinking I need to pretend there’s nothing wrong with this picture. Essentially, this is simply me masking my feelings and pretending everything is okay when it is not. This is the very essence of inauthenticity.

Being authentic requires you to state your truth (note: your truth does not have to be the truth – there are always two sides to a story) without blaming the other party. It helps you get rid of possible masks. Someone who is authentic with self sends consistent and congruent messages through words, tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language.

At the work place, being authentic particularly means knowing what you care about (your values) and standing up for that. It is our ability to be in touch with our emotional states – love, hate, anger, hope, etc. – and being able to own them fully. Interestingly, authenticity also means people feel they can trust you because they can see that what you feel and mean match one another. People are smart that way.

Of course, there may be situations where we all choose to be inauthentic – even unconsciously. However, please note that’s a choice and we would be self-aware of the trade-offs we are making.

In the meantime, please remember, authenticity is something we need to aspire to. Again, it is not a state of achievement or attainments. It is a journey.


  • 29 August 2016

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