The International Leadership Industry spends about $50 billion/year teaching people authenticity. What does that even mean?
What is Authenticity?
Here is partial definition from Merriam Webster:
3: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character is sincere and authentic with no pretension
Being real, actual, our essential, true self. Wait, is that the self we are in the morning before we have our coffee or the self we are after we have completed the morning ritual. Or the self we were in the crib, in kindergarten, at the high school prom, in college, after we had children, in retirement…
Who am I? Who are you? And why, for heaven’s sake, does the whole world even have to know what we can hardly get our brains around ourselves.
What’s The Point?
We’re supposed to be more authentic so we are relatable. That’s it, right. Somewhere along the line people have gotten the idea that we have to be one of the gang for credibility. That’s the other word, credibility, right up there with authenticity, used and potentially misused all over the place these days.
You can look that one up yourself. I look everything up. But right now I’m just saying that I think authenticity is overrated, can actually do some harm—and that I am not the only one who thinks so.
Steve Denning wrote a piece in Forbes on “Why Authenticity is Overrated As a Leadership Trait.” In this piece, he quotes Jeffery Pfeffer, the author of Leadership BS:
“In fact, being authentic is pretty much the opposite of what leaders must do…the last thing a leader needs to be at crucial moments is ‘authentic’—at least if authentic means being in touch with and exhibiting their true feelings. Leaders do not need to be true to themselves. Rather leaders need to be true to what the situation and what those around them want and need from them.”
Bravo! Exactly what I have had drummed into me from both the psychodynamic and spiritual masters who trained me along the way. Basically, it is not about me. I am an instrument for the use of others, there for the benefit of others, not there to blah, blah, blah about me.
Whom Do We Serve?
So when I wrote Getting to G.R.E.A.T., which actually was in part about me, my litmus test was not. The litmus test was this, from Socrates, Buddhists, and others: True, Kind, Necessary, Beneficial. Whatever I wrote had to pass this test or it didn’t get in.
As much as I did put in, I left much more of my story out because, even though it would have been true and mighty interesting, it would not have been kind, necessary, and beneficial to anyone but me—possibly for the venting although, frankly, I think venting is overrated too.
We hear a lot these days that “Your Mess is Your Message,” and the coaching industry is exploding with people all too happy to let us all know about their mess.
Even better I think would be, rather than the mess being the message, the lessons learned from having actually prevailed over the mess be the message instead.
And there are times when even with a particular mess behind us, it serves no useful purpose, maybe even its opposite, for people we aim to serve to know certain things about us that are simply TMI.
Going against the grain here perhaps. Controversial maybe. Then again, just being authentic ?. Your thoughts welcome of course.