Everywhere you look at the moment it seems someone is touting the importance of being “authentic”. A close run second is the need to be “fully self-expressed”. Actually no. Taken to its logical conclusion this is just an excuse to behave badly.
The problem with authenticity is the time frame. As Kevin Cashman points out in his wonderful book Leadership from the Inside Out, when we’re being authentic to who we are now, we are, by definition, being inauthentic to the person we know we can be. For example, when I show my frustration and anger you can bet I’m being authentic to who I am right now. Is it behaviour I can be truly proud of? Not so much.
The more courageous and more difficult choice is to show up authentically as the person I want to be. So, I take an inward breath, catch myself and make a different choice – to not say anything, to choose my tone, to ask a question with genuine curiosity instead of reacting. Am I being authentic? Absolutely, but in a way that aligns with who I am becoming. Consequently, my behaviour is something I can be proud of and better serves others. (And just to be clear, my hit rate is nowhere near perfect!)
This is why leading authentically is hard. Because the leading part calls us to be authentic to the best of ourselves and in doing so call forth the best in others. And that takes a level of self-restraint and discipline which is hard to do in the fast-paced world we all live in.
So next time you find yourself getting irritated instead of inquiring, walking away instead of engaging (or the reverse) or scrolling through the news feed instead of getting on with that important thing you need to do, maybe ask yourself which version of yourself you’re being authentic to.