Bill George, former Chairman and CEO of Medtronic, defines authenticity in his book, Authentic Leadership, Rediscovering the Secrets of Creating Lasting Value, as “being yourself; being your own person, the person you were created to be”. But what exactly does that mean?
At Change Masters, we break authenticity into two aspects – interior and exterior. Most people consider them separate entities, but it’s essential that both be intertwined in order to be successfully authentic.
We believe that the interior aspects of authenticity are around the choices you make and how they align with your highest beliefs. Exterior authenticity is about showing the type of the behaviors which allow others to accurately perceive what you mean, understand your intent, believe, follow or trust you.
To clarify this concept, we’ve put the attributes of interior authenticity from Bill George into three categories – the heart, the soul and the mind:
- Build relationships: Purpose; self-discipline.
- Show passion and compassion: Consistency of principles under pressure.
- Serve and empower others: Values; you know where you stand so others do, too.
Only you fully understand if you’re being authentic on the inside. You know your values and personal purpose – others would only know what you share with them. Conversely, the exterior aspects of authenticity are most accurately assessed by others, not by you. These behaviors reflect what others know about us on the outside, often better than we realize.
Without knowing you personally, we’re willing to bet that you’ve been misunderstood, even by people who know you well. That’s why our motto at Change Masters is “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviors”.
Blunt is Not Authenticity
Some people try to equate being able to say whatever they want or do whatever they want under the guise of “being authentic”. We’ve all heard people say, just after a verbal assault, something to the effect of, “Well, I’m just being honest – I’m just saying what everyone else is thinking”. This is not authenticity; it’s just rudeness, stubbornness or a severe lack of awareness. True, holistic authenticity means that you balance both the interior and exterior aspects that allow you to maintain working relationships with many types of individuals over a long period of time.
Think about it! What if you really told people what you thought, if you did exactly what you wanted to do at any given moment? You’re with your co-workers more than your own family. Can you imagine how disastrous the impact might be on your career if you were having a bad day with someone you really don’t respect?
Even if you meant to be authentic in that moment of impulsivity, you may not come across to others as you intend. Authenticity in leadership is achieved by managing yourself more effectively in the moment. That’s why you need to be aware of your impact internally and externally in order to get the full benefit of your authentic self at work. Authenticity at the Board table or anywhere else at work is about how you align and reconcile the interior and the exterior.
Every leader you’ve ever known who has developed true authenticity has gone through the painful process of going face-to-face with their flat spots so they can deal with them in a more effective manner. They have also learned to leverage their strengths more broadly, in ways they may never have considered before. They have learned not to define themselves at work by their external circumstances. They know you can’t control the environment around you, but you can control your internal response to it. Those internal and external choices create authenticity that people can trust, believe and follow.