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10 Oct 2013

The Truth About Authenticity

AuthenticityThe truth about Authenticity, a currently popular leadership and career model, is that it must be employed subtly, even covertly.

Lisa Rosh (Yeshiva University) and Lynn Offermann (George Washington University) phrase it as “Be Yourself, but Carefully” (Harvard Business Review, October 2013 edition). It’s deeper still. Whether it’s Pink’s (more) “The Truth About Love” or Machiavelli The Prince, humans always have and always will have a realistic, pragmatic underbelly to their ideals requiring wise approaches. Authenticity is no different.

For instance, how pragmatic is it to assume that people will overlook the authenticity they dislike because they like authenticity itself? Maybe people just won’t like our authentic self. Yet, one devotee of Authenticity responded, “Authenticity helps you to like everyone.”  Is this real, authentic? We naturally associate with people like us and dangerous people exist at work. How do we know unconscious dislikes are not influencing us, perhaps pigeonholing people?

Authenticity often cites differences as communication challenges; that learning to tell our story better will address personality differences. Similarly, political parties and corporations often say they only need to tell their story better, not address intrinsic differences with the electorate or marketplace. Authenticity advocates us learning to fit our story and communications to the situation and person. Does this still mean though that we won’t like those who are like us any more than those who are different from us?

Yet, how is this different from a form of “playing of politics” – that is also used to circumvent or neutralize these differences – without losing the essence of who we are? This self-preservation seems to fit Authenticity’s intent. Could Authenticity then just be a euphemism for playing politics?



3 Responses

  1. Great post Mike. I’ve been coming to a similar conclusion after my own explorations last year with the Quest for Truth series. Generally speaking, it seems we all TALK about honesty, the importance of honesty, yet in reality, very few people are honest or CAN be honest without various ramifications/consequences.

    I experience this frequently in my interactions with others (not feeling like honesty is acceptable) and also, I confess, every once in awhile I don’t always know how to handle someone else’s honesty. There’s been more then once where one of my own children have thrown me for a loop with their honesty! haha

    As a society, we learn to say we are ‘fine’ most of the time when people ask us how we are doing, even if terrible. Then we turn around and say that no, we’ve decided that’s not the answer and now we WANT to know how people are REALLY feeling, yet it BETTER be POSITIVE! Or keep your mouth shut.

    Which is it? Can people be honest about their life and their day or ONLY if things are going well?

    Shall we continue to play LETS PRETEND life never has anything negative and that we have no problems? But I digress… (grins)

    Since ‘truth’ was a big part of blog focus last year, perhaps it’s simply been something that is at the forefront of my thought-life. However, it seemed that so many real life examples cropped up that revealed just how much truth and honesty is NOT acceptable for the most part. I can’t tell you how many times after I published a blog post last year, that our country faced some devastating news and violence and at the heart of it is a result of our inability to handle honesty in each other. With a generous helping of denial to go right along with it. Anywhere from people who finally lose it altogether and shoot up malls and schools, to kids of pastors committing suicide, to our own day to day lives personally and professionally. Just HOW honest are we ‘allowed’ to be and just how much negative do we have to stuff down to ensure no one else has to hear or experience anything less then positive?

    Truth…in reality. Most don’t want it and prefer not to know it.

    So where on earth does that leave authenticity?!

    : )

    1. Mike Lehr

      Very true, Samantha. Sometimes when we accept truth it requires action especially if it’s something we don’t want to hear. It’s like hearing about a problem. If we don’t hear about it, it doesn’t exist so we don’t need to do anything about it.

      In regard to answering “fine” when someone asks, “How are you?” In college I was responsible for the orientation of a group of foreign freshmen students. In one meeting aimed at recapping the days events and answering questions, this Dutch woman asked, “Why is it that when Americans ask, ‘How are you?’ they keep on walking by?” Yes, you are right, if we actually respond with “terrible” as opposed to “fine,” we are likely to be accused of negativity or even worse avoided the next time.

      As I wrote in the post, I’ve come to the conclusion that authenticity is really a euphemism for “playing politics.” It’s the escargot of snails.

      Thank you for stopping by for a visit, Samantha.

  2. Pingback : The Burden of Truth | Tweet Connection

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