The Problem with Authenticity?

By Clyde C. Lowstuter

For thirty-three years I’ve been saying that Authenticity is the single most important determinant for personal and organizational success. When the January 2015 Harvard Business Review magazine came out, entitled “The Problem with Authenticity – When It’s OK to Fake It Till You Make It” (highlighting the article, The Authenticity Paradox“), it challenged R|L’s core belief, and naturally I received a lot of queries regarding my position.

Chameleon BusinessmanAuthenticity is a way of being – of thinking, feeling, and behaving – that brings out the best in you and others. The HBR article’s intimation that it’s OK to pretend to be authentic when you’re not flies in the face of what it means to be authentic. While authenticity requires behavioral nimbleness, it doesn’t mean faking it. Problems arise when people start using the word “authentic” as an excuse to do or say whatever they want. If an executive bullies others to submit to his position and claims that he is operating as his authentic self, he is not truly being authentic. In an attempt to disguise his fear of being seen as “less than…” for example, bullies often create disruptive distractions, usually with a lot of blustering.

Operating authentically is about being transparent, straightforward, and genuine. However, being straightforward does not give a person license to intimidate another.  An integral part of being authentic is being fully accountable for the unintended impact we have on others. However, overplayed strengths can become liabilities. As such, unvarnished honesty often feels brutal, and unchecked vulnerability can be the height of naiveté, possibly stalling out your career.  Authenticity has respect at its core—not just for yourself, but for others as well.

Through interacting with thousands of leaders, we have found that the source of inauthenticity is typically the lack of effective role models, lack of transformational feedback, and fear.  Inauthentic leaders protect their egos by being unapproachable, whereas authentic leaders routinely ask directs, peers, and bosses, “How can I better serve you to help you achieve more?” Inauthentic executives conveniently leave out the “brings out the best in others” part of the authenticity formula; authentic leaders know that self-mastery is a lifelong pursuit.  Authenticity isn’t just about one person’s needs. It can’t be, because we live interdependently with others.

Authenticity invites you to be more confident, courageous, and resourceful, while taking complete accountability for your behavioral impact.

As a means of raising your AQ – Authenticity Quotient™ you might ask yourself:  When interacting with others, whose needs am I serving most – mine or others? What perspective might others have on this issue? What is the best way to communicate our similarities and differences? How might I have inadvertently created defensiveness and what do I need to do to clear it up?

Authenticity Success Cycle:

Taking full accountability for your thoughts, feelings, and behavior enhances others’ respect and trust of you.   Fully embracing authenticity allows you to more boldly and confidently contribute to the growth and profitably of your organization – leading to new opportunities and endorsement from others.

Authenticity + Competency + Drive = Success.  All of these factors are important, but Authenticity is the critical cornerstone.

My declarative stance remains:

Authenticity is the single most important determinant for personal and organizational success.  


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Douglas Reed

    Hi Clyde:

    I fully agree with your thoughts on being authentic. I would also add, being authentic is also strongly related to being a servant leader. A servant leader thinks about others and the organization first. As they build followership, they are continually being evaluated by those in the organization. Being authentic in their interactions with others is critical to building strong connections. Those connections can run deep and often are the inspiration for great achievements.

    Thank you for continuing to sharing your insights with us.

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