A colleague of mine (Stewart Hayes) reached out to me a couple weeks ago with the brief message:

I found another member of The Authenticity Army

I hadn’t thought of the concept in that way before and it really made me reflect.  I know that Stewart and I share similar thoughts on doing the right thing (not because it’s the way the organizational culture thinks it’s the right thing, but because it’s the right thing to do), but I’d never thought of how rare that quality really is in the real world.

In my current permanent role I am realizing more and more each day how lucky I am to be surrounded by authentic people.  People who share my passion for excellence.  People who want to create the future rather than just experience it.  But Stewart’s comment reminded me that truly authentic people who you can count on to do what they say, deliver when they say they will, challenge groupthink and tradition, and question you when you need to be questioned really are rare in the world today.

It’s taken me a long time to actually complete this post that I started that day because when I reflected on the idea of an “Authenticity Army” I questioned whether I really deserved to be a member.  Surely to be considered a part of such an elite sounding group I would have to be truly authentic 100% of the time, a Mother Theresa of authenticity.

The dictionary defines the term “authentic” as follows:

au·then·tic

[aw-then-tik]

adjective

  1. not false or copied; genuine; real: an authentic antique.
  2. having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified: an authentic document of the Middle Ages; an authentic work of the old master.
  3. entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy: an authentic report on poverty in Africa.
  4. Law . executed with all due formalities: an authentic deed.
  5. Music .
    1. (of a church mode) having a range extending from thefinal to the octave above.
    2. (of a cadence) consisting of a dominant harmony followed by a tonic.

For the purposes of the “Authenticity Army” I think the first three parts of the definition are most relevant.

In the context of the definition I’ve realized that membership in this elite group doesn’t require us to be perfect, but rather to be authentic.  Even an authentic antique may have blemishes and scars, but it’s those blemishes and scars that contribute to the authenticity of the piece.

I would propose the following criteria for the inclusion in the “Authenticity Army”:

  • Has a belief structure that is grounded in the personal experiences (both good and bad) that have made up their life
  • Stays true to those beliefs even in the face of adversity and stress
  • Is open to learning and growth from every new experience
  • Is open to learning and growth from the experiences of those around them
  • Believes in the genuine goodness of people and strives to improve the lives of those around them
  • Does what they commit to, doesn’t commit to those things that they can’t support or deliver upon
  • Is consistent in all situations and with everyone around them
  • Accepts their imperfections and consistently works to improve on them

I truly believe that authenticity is one of the most key characteristics of the true leaders of tomorrow, and your willingness and ability to live an authentic life will determine your level of success in all aspects of your life.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the concept of an “Authenticity Army”.  Do the criteria I’ve proposed make sense?  Are there some I’ve missed that you believe are critical factors in being a truly authentic person?  Feel free to share through comments or via Google+ or LinkedIn.  Perhaps we can start build a network of truly authentic people who together can truly change the world.

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

5 Comments

  • Great post Tim. I appreciate your investment in this thinking and gravitate to the values that you have highlighted.

    Here’s my own struggle with the word “authenticity”: if it means “genuine”, or “true” if you will, then it does not automatically imply any specific values, i.e. the values of the entity pre-exist. Most references to authenticity in leadership material presume that the pre-existing values that will manifest are good. Your post follows in this tradition.

    I am less impressed with our human race―seems to me that greed and self-preservation are more base drivers than most of us want to admit. If we look around the economic landscape of the last 10 years we don’t have to look far for leaders who were very “authentic”, as in true to themselves, whose greed caused great destruction.

    My own world view that the goodness and selfishness co-exist within each of us. Every day we take actions that manifest the choice, some conscious some not, between those values of goodness and selfishness. What is “authentic” in that moment can vary.
    I believe we each need be more conscious and more deliberate about the values we choose―we need to MAKE them authentic, i.e. the values and the effort are the key. For me, the notion of “authenticity” reduces the pressure to work at it by making it seem like it is natural and inevitable―I think what is “inevitable” is much less reliable than what we consciously choose.

    The difference is important to me – we need to be self-aware and deliberate about this work, this extra step. It is not enough to draw on one’s instincts or intuition (latent, core, “authentic” values) rather we need to draw on our “best” self to live into those values. I have come to really appreciate the values of servant leadership. A good friend introduced me to Peter Block’s “Stewardship” and now it’s hard to look back.
    In this blog post I tried to capture these thoughts another way http://gailseverini.com/2012/02/23/authenticity-is-an-over-rated-leadership-attribute/ ―it is confrontational to make a point. I know few think about it this way – maybe it’s not for everybody – I certainly respect if it’s not for you.

    Really appreciated hearing your point of view – you made me think about it again and differently, advanced my own thinking. Thank you for sharing your perspective and entertaining mine.

    • Thanks for the thoughts Gail. I don’t disagree with you on the point that “authenticity” on its own doesn’t actually imply a positive attribute, but rather does only classify something as “true” or “genuine”.

      It is of course possible for someone to be an authentic crook or an authentic egomaniac.

      In some ways perhaps “veracity” is a more correct term in the context that we both would agree on:

      ve·rac·i·ty   [vuh-ras-i-tee]
      noun, plural

      1. habitual observance of truth in speech or statement; truthfulness: He was not noted for his veracity.
      2. conformity to truth or fact; accuracy: to question the veracity of his account.
      3. correctness or accuracy, as of the senses or of a scientific instrument.
      4. something veracious; a truth.

      Synonyms
      1. honesty, integrity, credibility.

      Even this doesn’t quite capture the overall sentiment that I think is meant as you note in most leadership writing on the topic of authenticity, but it certainly is much clearer that we are speaking of the “goodness” side of the term.

      I do also agree that it is up to us as leaders to be deliberate and self-aware in our authenticity – while I tend to believe more that everyone is (in their hearts) aligned to the “goodness” rather than “selfishness” the lures of our current society make it too easy for them to slip into the darker side of things.

      Thanks for the link to your post as well – I enjoyed your thoughts on things, but allow me to suggest an alternative between WIIFM and WIIFO – that is WIIFU (What’s in it for US). I don’t think that we need to fall completely on the side of what’s best for the organization or what’s best for us personally, and additionally neither of these options takes into consideration what’s in it for my team members individually. If I always stay focused on delivering value in a WIIFU mindset I can maximize the benefits across the board.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

      • Hi Tim, sorry for the delay in responding – I thought I clicked the choice that said ‘advise me of activity’ (or similar wording) but I didn’t get that and just came back to see what others had to say.

        You have got me thinking about veracity – great word for all the reasons you noted.

        I LOVE WIIFU! I would greatly appreciate if you would add that comment on my blog (so credit for it would naturally flow to you and readers would come here to see your point of view).

        Great dialogue. I also appreciating seeing Ket’s perspective. I am subscribing to see where you go next.

  • Ket Smith

    Tim
    Thanks for your thoughts on authenticity. I want to be known for my authenticity rather than my just filling a role in business. It should define who I am and what I do from the inside out. Thanks for letting me know I am not alone.

    Ket

    • Thanks Ket – I completely agree. Can you imagine the value that could be created if we were to all hold ourselves to this standard? It may not always be easy to do the right thing, we know at our core that it is the right thing to do – by succumbing to pressure to behave or perform in a way that is not authentic we both do ourselves a disservice and reduce the value we bring to the table simultaneously.

      Thanks for sharing!

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