The feeling of authenticity is unlike any other. Whether you demonstrate authenticity or someone is completely authentic with you, the feeling is pure and exhilarating. If we revisit my favorite dictionary site, 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 honest, 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. To discover authenticity in yourself, it's essential 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 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 know ourselves and are aware of our inner states." I often refer to this as our character, our most authentic self.
I get it. I'm not naive that sometimes we must put on an act to get by, the adage "fake till you make it." However, too many times, organizations ask their leaders to be something other than their authentic selves 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 should matter significantly to your organization, your employees, and the customers they serve. 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 more significant than ever.
Avolio & Gardner (2005) suggest that authentic leadership promotes an environment in the workplace that is consistent and complementary 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 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 but are instead motivated by a goal, not about themselves but the greater good. Leaders who understand the feeling of authenticity have the self-knowledge to understand their 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 aim 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 build trust.
Lead with heart: Demonstrate caring and compassion for others.
Establish connected relationships: This is an essential 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 must have the courage to get out of your way, be self-aware, and accept yourself for who you are. The feeling of authenticity is about being honest and genuine to yourself and others. By closing the gap between your inner and outer authentic self, you help grow trust in what you say and do, and even when the going gets tough (which it always does), you have the courage to stay true to your values.