In a long line of leadership fads, ‘being authentic’ has been in fashion for a while. Along with many others, I love the concept and spend a lot of time working with clients towards this goal.
However, I’m becoming uncomfortable with the term ‘authenticity’. Firstly, it feels like jargon and I believe in using words that everyone understands. Secondly, I’ve seen it used as an excuse for bad behaviour.
I believe that being authentic is about being honest with yourself. That’s being honest with yourself about your motivations for your behaviour, values, strengths and weaknesses. And the reason that matters is that it enables you to be honest with others – an essential leadership ingredient. After all, how can you be honest with others if you aren’t with yourself?
Someone I used to work with desperately wanted to be a someone. He wanted what he said and thought to be of value, for his ideas to have some importance. That’s what drove him. But he wasn’t honest with himself or with those around him. He did not practice what he preached. His team saw an individual whose words and actions did not line up. He managed people, but they weren’t ‘followers’. If he’d been honest with himself, (and therefore those around him), something would have had to have changed: either the words or actions. His team would have worked towards making his ideas become valuable. The leaders we love are never ever perfect, but they are honest with themselves and for that we forgive them.
Perhaps the new authenticity is ‘honesty’?.