Authenticity: The Secret Sauce

Authenticity:  The Secret Sauce

Authenticity is an interesting word.  You ask 10 people for a definition of it, and you may get 10 different answers.  Ultimately it comes down to Justice Potter Stewart's famous line, “I know it when I see it”.  

Over the last year or so, as I have been looking at leadership from different angles and practices, authenticity continues to show up as a key element in leaders that make a difference and interrupt the status quo.  The work that Werner Erhard and Professor Michael C. Jensen are doing on leadership, identifies authenticity as one of the 4 cornerstone distinctions in productivity breakthroughs. 

Today my intention is not to explain or define authenticity.  My intention is to look at authenticity, what it takes, what it may provide, and what may be possible from it, and to invite your feedback and discourse around it.  As always, thank you for your generosity, for your time, and for your heart and mind.  

What does it take for authenticity to exist?

Gosh I love Justice Stewart, but unfortunately that doesn’t help us in looking at what needs to be present for authenticity to exist.  If we look at truly authentic leaders, Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Ronald Reagan, Bill Belichick; you can see they all had unique personalities.  Some of them were not noted for being overly positive or nice.  At their core though, I am sure you will find that they all got to the point where they were enough.  There was an unapologetic acceptance of themselves.  Not from a place of arrogance, though some of the folks listed could occur that way, but more from a place of “this is what it is”.  

From that place of accepting who we are, and who we are not, that opens up some opportunities that may not be viewed as strategically sound.  That allows for making invitations with out assurance of acceptance.  That allows for investing without knowing if that investment will work or not.  It is a place of few guarantees, and it allows for a wide array of outcomes.  The idea of certainty is not required, and when certainty is not required, there no longer is a need for perfectionism.  

What else is needed for authenticity to be present?  I think what else is required, or at least useful, is a tie to a commitment bigger than yourself, and a commitment worthy of oneself. With that, taking on big commitments, with unexpected challenges and opportunity, comes, courage, and compassion.  What I love about the word courage, it comes from the Latin meaning “whole hearted”.  Being whole hearted is the act of being all in.  And there is nothing more magnetic than a leader who is all in, and committed to the task.  

What Authenticity provides:

From that place of having a leader who is “all in”, who “believes in the cause”, it signals to others that it is ok to join in.  Say what you want about Donald Trump, yes he may be a jackass, and he is all in and believes in him.  How else can he get away with saying the crazy stuff he says?  His authenticity, his belief in himself, his purpose, and those around him, allow for him to express himself in a most unconventional way.  

When leadership is operating authentically, what it is allowing for is that the people they are in relationship with can make their own choices.  Authenticity is not so much about what is said, as it is about the purpose and the intention behind the message.  Authenticity allows for empowerment, and with that, a space of creativity and real communication.  

I think the most valuable thing that authenticity provides is a sense of connection, and from that a sense of belonging, team, and community are allowed to emerge. 

What Authenticity makes possible. 

As stated, a space of connection is created.   Through the act of accepting oneself, we inevitably accept others, and in doing so, eliminate the barriers between us.  When those barriers are removed the avenues of communication are opened.  Collaboration and discourse are allowed; it can get messy and from that mess, creativity, innovation, and new ideas arise.  More importantly, people have the experience of being seen and heard.  The environment is one that everyone matters, hierarchy is reduced, silos are disassembled and an environment of team work and shared vision becomes possible.  

It can lead to an environment of growth, expansion and development.  One of fulfillment and acceleration. 

What authenticity is not.

I think the challenge with authenticity is, it is not one way.  What may be authentic today, may not be tomorrow.  Again this points to the pull for certainty.  If you think about it, we as humans and our organizations are ever changing and ever evolving.  It makes sense that so is the authentic expression of those people and groups.  Authenticity is a dynamic phenomenon.  That ever changing-ness of it, makes it difficult to put inside an employee handbook, or define in an HR policy guide.   

Now the scenario I painted sounds dreamy.  And it is, and it takes hard work to get there.  It requires tough choices, and even tougher conversations.  It is difficult for authenticity to exist without trust, and for trust to truly exist, it requires the ability to withstand a storm.  Authenticity, as odd as it seems, takes a lot of work.  And it takes a commitment.  

I am really interested in what you folks have to say.  What benefits do you see would be generated in your business, your organization, or community from authenticity?  What do you see would happen in your career, your role, if you took on the practice of being authentic?  What is the one thing you see would be made possible by it?  Please share with the class?  

Thanks again, and as always I am so grateful for those of you who spend time with these post.  Thank you again.  

-Mike Shereck


Something Bigger (Leadership Lessons from the Grateful Dead) by Mike Shereck