The feeling of authenticity is unlike any other. Whether it is you demonstrating authenticity or someone is being completely authentic with you, the feeling is pure and exhilarating. If we visit my favorite dictionary site again we learn that Authenticity is “real or genuine, not copied or false, true and accurate.” I cherish the interactions and situations that allow me to be real, genuine, and true to myself. However, the idea of authenticity is as old as the Greek philosophy ‘to thine own self be true’.
“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” -Mary Sarton
It takes courage to be authentic. It takes courage to get to know yourself. In order to discover authenticity in yourself, it’s important to start with self-awareness, which must stand over and against the influence of pressure (social, work, family, etc.), and stand as a beacon for consistency.
Dr. Stephen Joseph suggests that we have two levels of authenticity. Our first level he argues is our “outer authenticity – how well what we say and do matches what is really going on inside us”. I call this your persona, or more simply the mask you wear. Our second level is our “inner authenticity – how well we actually know ourselves and are aware of our inner states”. I often refer to this as our character, your most authentic self.
I get it. I’m not naive to the fact that sometimes we need to put on an act to simply get by, the old adage “fake till you make it”. However, too many times organizations ask their leaders to be something other then their authentic self; Or realize too late that the leader’s authentic self is inappropriate for the role of leader because the leader thought the organization wanted something different.
“It was as if someone flashed a mirror at me at my absolute worst.
What I saw was horrifying, but it was also a great lesson.” -Doug Baker Jr., Chairman and CEO, Ecolab
Being authentic matters a great deal to your organization, your employees, and the customers who are served by them. Faking it till you make it as a leader is bad business. For organizations to function effectively, the need for authentic leaders who encourage employees to perform at their best, step up, and experience the feeling of authentic leadership is greater than ever.
Avolio & Gardner (2005) suggest that authentic leadership promotes an environment in the workplace that is consistent and complimentary to that of emotional intelligence, insofar as authentic leaders are deeply aware of who they are, and in tune with their emotions, they inspire authentic feelings of hope, optimism, resiliency, and positive psychological capital in their followers. This environment undoubtedly leads to increased job performance and greater amounts of engagement, job satisfaction, loyalty, and retention of an organization’s employees.
The feeling of authenticity happens when leaders are not driven toward self-serving interests and instead motivated by a goal not about them but about the greater good. Leaders who understand the feeling of authenticity have the self-knowledge to understand their personal gifts and passions and commit to helping manifest and empower others’ gifts and passions to accomplish a shared goal to benefit others.
So how does a leader become more authentic and promote the feeling of authenticity? Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, offers five dimensions of authentic leaders in his book Authentic Leadership, authentic leaders:
- Understand their purpose: This is the reason they move into leadership roles. Authentic leaders have a purpose to make a positive difference in the world by showing others the way and helping them reach their potential.
- Practice solid values: These define one’s character and help to build trust with others.
- Lead with heart: Demonstrate caring and compassion for others.
- Establish connected relationships: This is a basic leadership competency. Great leaders admit they cannot do it alone.
- Demonstrate self-discipline: Always adhere to values, which help build trust (the foundation for any relationship).
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” –Mohandas Gandhi
To be an authentic leader, you need to have the courage to get out of your own way, to be self-aware, and accept yourself for who you are. The feeling of authenticity is about being real and genuine to yourself and to others. By closing the gap of your inner and outer authentic self you help grow trust in what you say and what you do, even when the going gets tough (which it always does) have the courage to stay true to your values.