Tag Archive for: authenticity

You Can’t Fake Real Authenticity

A few years ago, in The New York Times, Stephanie Rosenbloom denounced the overuse of authenticity as a claim for success in her article, “Authentic? Get Real.” She cited politicians and television personalities who describe themselves as authentic, declaring that they owe their success to qualities of which authenticity was most important. US Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said, “I’m a real person”, while TV talk show host Anderson Cooper says, “I’ve always tried to just be authentic and real”.

Movie stars and politicians aren’t the only ones to hop on the authenticity bandwagon to promote themselves. According to Rosenbloom, “legions of marketers and social networking coaches are preaching that to succeed online – on Twitter, Facebook, Match.com – we must all ‘be authentic!'” I’ve even heard of organizations running ‘authenticity programs’ for their leaders, training them how to be ‘more authentic.’

In a world of corporate and political betrayal, it’s a no-brainer that authenticity is compelling. But like everything valuable, we have created counterfeits. We have now learned how to fake being authentic.

Authenticity is like leadership. You can’t declare yourself as ‘authentic’ any more than you can declare yourself a ‘leader.’ You aren’t a leader until someone else decides that you are. And you aren’t authentic until someone else decides that you are. It’s in the eyes of the beholder. While leadership in a confused society is also compelling, you can’t use leadership as a way to promote yourself; you have to earn it. You can’t train someone to be authentic anymore than you can train someone to be a leader. As valuable as the tools are that you might acquire in a ‘leadership training’ program, leadership is not about the tools; leadership is about the tool user. Authenticity is not a method to influence; it’s an outcome of living your life over time with integrity and a commitment to service. Authentic leaders are seen as great leaders, not because they set out to be authentic, but because they set out to be better at being themselves. They don’t usually even have a motive to be a better leader. They want, instead to be a good person. Good people with leadership capacity make good leaders. It’s that simple and that difficult.

Living authentically is not the road frequently traveled. I have found it to be so much easier to mimic others when I’m not sure of myself, to conform when I am afraid, or to put my faith in others when I don’t trust myself. Living authentically has, at times, meant facing my own suffering and self-deception. As a consultant, I want to be perceived by my clients as having it all together, always having the right answers, and being intelligent, kind, and inspirational. As noble as these goals are, my ability to influence comes in my humanness, to accept and be where I am, for a genuine connection is made in that humanness and a seed of trust is planted. It’s more important to be who I am than to be who I think you want me to be in order to be liked.

Here are three lessons I have learned about authenticity:

First, authenticity takes time to develop. You can’t turn it on like a light switch. Developing your authentic self is a life-long journey. It takes conscious work. My own path to discovering and expressing my voice in a world that seems to be trying to make me just like everyone else is one of my greatest challenges.

Secondly, authenticity must serve the greater good. Like beauty, authenticity brings value to the world by its very presence. Notice that those you would regard as truly ‘authentic’ choose service over self-interest. They don’t ‘try’ to be authentic (in fact, most authentic people would not even describe themselves as such); they use their gifts for a purpose greater than their own self-serving desires.

Third, authenticity is internal in nature. Its rewards are primarily internal. You can’t measure its value in terms of the world’s standards such as fame, financial success, or political achievement. Living authentically often means seeking solitude away from the world’s approval and risking the rejection of others. Those who accept this path of seeking to live honestly, connecting to, and living in alignment with their true self discover an inner peace, clarity and connection that cannot come from society.

My own reverence for life, a requirement for living authentically, was set early in life. In the words of one of my mentors, the world-renowned family therapist, Virginia Satir, “Plants [or people] never grow better because I demand that they do so or because I threaten them. Plants [and people] grow only when they have the right conditions and are given the proper care.” Finding the right place and the proper nourishment for plants – and people as well – is a matter of continual investigation and vigilance. You can’t fake real authenticity. It’s a life-long journey.

Mentor Leaders – Lessons From School Teachers

I always love working with teachers. Like every profession, there are good teachers and bad teachers, but I have learned a lot over the years about leadership from having teachers in my leadership development programs. In Oprah’s final show, she introduced and praised her grade four teacher, an early “liberator” who made her feel valued. Think about your own teachers. There are those who just meet the curriculum requirements and help you get into the next grade, while others inspire you, build your character, and mentor you to be a better person, not just a better student. And think about the bosses you’ve had. Some merely help you get your work done, some get in your way, but some change your life. Some help you be a better employee, while others help you be a better person.

How is it that some teachers are merely teachers, but others are leaders, mentors, and life-changers? And how is it that some bosses are merely bosses, while others influence and build your moral fiber, model and teach new attitudes and behaviors, and create a constructive legacy for future generations? It is this distinction that makes a “mentor leader.”

While there are many leadership practices that amplify one’s impact on others, “mentor leaders” possess three qualities of leadership that exemplify their presence:

1) Leaders who make a difference are authentic. They are human, and humble, and present. They also aren’t perfect or attempt to create an illusion of perfection. To impact others, you can’t be phony. People will see right through it. By being who they are, they create a space where others are inspired to also be authentic. Authentic people love what they do and are open to learning about themselves. They are inspired by a purpose and a passion and as a result, they inspire others.

2) Leaders who make a difference are accountable. They can be counted on and don’t make promises they aren’t prepared to keep. They create a place where blame is viewed as a waste of time. They have high standards, both for themselves and those around them. It’s inspiring to be around people you can count on. You aren’t a leader until someone says you are, and you won’t earn the credibility to influence and be trusted if people can’t count on you.

3) Leaders who make a difference care. They care about their work and they care about the people around them. They understand that leading is largely a matter of caring about people, not manipulating or controlling them. Leaders who care measure their success by the trust they build and the value they bring to the lives of others. They are committed to serve. Mentor leaders know that their work is a means to a higher end and put people above products and processes. It’s about changing lives.

Great leadership goes well beyond merely “getting the job done,” and cannot be reduced to technique or position or power. Great leadership inspires others and comes from the strength of one’s identity and integrity – their presence. When teachers possess this presence and inspire it in their students, we are truly fortunate to have them in our lives. The same goes for the leaders in our life and in our work who can help us reach unimaginable potential.

Are You Connecting?

The other day a flight attendant asked me if I was connecting. This is a good question to ask yourself every so often. “Are you connecting?”

Life depends on connections, and the quality of your life depends on the quality of your connections. Every system depends on connections. Circulatory systems, nervous systems, organizational systems, ecosystems, family systems. Connection is to relationship what breathing is to life. If you can’t make a connection, not much else matters.

While we all, at some level, understand the importance of connection in our lives, what exactly does it mean to be connected? Like beauty, it’s hard to describe, but you know when it’s there. There’s a difference between communicating and being connected. “Everyone communicates,” writes the leadership guru John Maxwell, “but very few people connect.” Today, with all of the high-tech tools such as email, text messaging, Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter, we are certainly in better contact with each other, but are we better connected? High tech requires an equal high touch. With all this capacity to be in contact are we actually making contact? In this high tech, so-called “connected” world, do we feel more loved; more supported; or more at peace with others and ourselves? Do we live with a stronger sense of community? You can’t fully connect without looking a person in the eyes, hearing their voice, reaching their hearts, and knowing them as unique people with needs, values, and dreams. Technology is a great tool to stay connected; it’s not such a good tool to get connected.

Connections have a life of their own. You can actually stifle connections like you can a living organism, or you can breathe life into them.

Here are some conditions for connections to flourish:

  • Focus: Identify the ‘significant seven’ stakeholders in your personal and professional life. A stakeholder is a person who depends on you or upon whom you depend. You will have a list of ‘significant seven’ in both your personal and your professional life. Take an honest inventory of how connected you are with these people and how much personal investment is needed at this time. Don’t confuse peripheral relationships with significant relationships. Think about who will be with you at your deathbed.
  • Understanding: Your goal in connecting is understanding, not necessarily agreement. Connection isn’t the same as agreement. You can agree without connecting, just as you can connect without agreement. What are you doing to really listen to the people in your life? Empathy is a critically important aspect in connecting. To see a quick review of empathy take a few moments to look at a three minute video with the words of Brené Brown: www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
  • Accountability: Take accountability for your own emotions, reactions, and needs – in all your relationships. See all blame as a waste of time.  Ownership breeds openness. Take a careful inventory of yourself: Are you a person who can be counted on? Do people experience you as accountable? Do you take 100% responsibility for your life? Have you stopped hiding behind such statements as, “They need to listen better”? No, they don’t have to listen better; you need to communicate better. Nobody but you cares about the reason you let someone down.
  • Disconnect: You have to disconnect to connect. Turn off your devices at times during the day. Leave your cell phone in a drawer when you are with the important people in your life. Disconnect to connect. Create time and space to be together without interruptions. I find it interesting that in our society, the value of pets – who cannot use technology yet are completely present -is increasing along with the value we place on technology.
  • Rituals: Regularly scheduled dates, breakfasts, teas, and uninterrupted, unstructured time to hang out and just be with the important people in your life all allow connections to grow. Don’t worry about making it “quality” time. Sometimes it’s quality; sometimes it isn’t. Just be sure it is time. Connection is a four-letter word: t-i-m-e. If you want to know how your connections are, look at what is scheduled in your planner.
  • Be Vulnerable: Develop a habit of sharing your challenges, your fears, your dreams, or your insecurities with the important people in your life. Connections strengthen with vulnerability by sharing what is going on in your life. Conversations are the path to connection. But remember, connection doesn’t have to be big or dramatic. It simply has to be consistent and honest.
  • Presence: Listen carefully as you feel with people. What are their dreams? What matters to them? Don’t just deal with people. Feel with people. Before you can touch a person’s heart, you have to know what’s in it. The best present you can ever give another person is to be present in the present.
  • Slow down: Slow down in order to focus on the people you meet. Practice walking through crowds slowly. Whether clients, customers, or colleagues, take a few minutes to stop and listen. Everyone has needs, values, and dreams, and people generally like to talk about themselves. Focus on being interested rather than being interesting. I learned from my daughter who taking a course in agriculture that the most valuable tool on a farm is a five-gallon pail. Turn it upside down, sit on it, and observe the animals.
  • Tune in. Listen for messages that people send without talking. Words aren’t the only way to connect. We communicate with our eyes, our body language, our unspoken messages. Practice tuning in by spending time in nature or with animals. Once again, you have to slow down to tune in.
  • Authenticity: Make time to reflect and connect with the voice inside of you. You can’t connect fully unless you have a good sense of self-worth that comes from being true to yourself – in the service of others. As you live in accord with your values, your self-respect grows, and connections with others strengthens. Connection with others begins with a connection to yourself.

Humanizing Your Organization – The Power Of Caring Stewardship

On a recent errand to the hardware store I was between meetings and impatient, rushed, and abrupt with the cashier. She was trying her best but I was frustrated with having to wait through the long line up, and tense about missing my next appointment. It wasn’t long afterwards that I became uncomfortable with my interaction. I teach others to treat people as human beings, not as objects. But what did I do with this cashier? Just that. With one small mindful decision, I could have had an entirely different transaction. Instead of seeing this young woman as a cashier, with a small act of caring, I could have seen her as a fellow human being with hopes and feelings and a life away from work – perhaps a college student paying her way through school, or someone’s daughter or girlfriend. My response to her would have been gentler, kinder, and more supportive and caring.

I believe that it is these small actions and responses that reap the big results when it comes to creating the cultures where we work and live. In large systems, when people get treated as objects, or numbers, or cogs in a machine, they start acting like objects, and in turn treat others like objects, and you create a vicious, dehumanizing circle of low trust and disrespect, while losing contact with human touch and human potential.

Here are four ways to humanize your organizations and your life:

  • Before interacting with anyone, whether it’s a clerk, direct report, cab driver, boss, customer, or family member, take a moment to see beyond a role or label that reduces them to an object. Instead, try seeing them as a human being with feelings, needs, worries, values, and aspirations. Try this for one day and track the difference it makes in your interactions. Notice how when you change the way you look at people, the people you look at change. It’s about caring.
  • Maintain personal integrity. Self-respect comes from trusting yourself to keep a promise to yourself – even in the face of discomfort, insecurity, and disapproval. The result of greater self-respect is inevitably higher trust – of yourself and others. You can’t treat others with dignity and kindness unless you have it within you. When you are a better person, the world around you is better for it.
  • Create a little more space in your day. Had I taken responsibility to take a few things off my to-do list and arrived at the store with more space in my day, it would have been easier to be more patient and kind with this cashier. We all seem stressed with the demands we take on these days. It is irresponsible to make your lack of planning someone else’s suffering.
  • Bring gratitude to your life. Gratitude transforms coldness into kindness, impatience into peace, self-interest into service, and entitlement into commitment. Gratitude gives you the freedom to grant grace to yourself and others, especially when we are all under pressure. Gratitude changes everything.

When you take ownership for your part of the environment where you work and for your relationships, and thus committing to making the world a better place by your presence, you are what I call the Cultural Stewards. Like leadership, stewardship is not a title or position. It is a presence – a decision. Stewardship is nothing less than deciding to be the trusted guardians of the organization and its people, products, and experiences. Traditionally, stewards were entrusted with the care of the estate while the baron was in absentia, and were thus charged with the health, vitality, and survival of the estate (even the care of the baron’s own family). Stewardship, therefore, is no lightweight title. Taking this kind of ownership – without blame, demands, guilt, or criticism – breathes new life into the environments where you spend your life, and makes those places a whole lot more enjoyable.

Personal Leadership – A Culture of One

Operational accountabilities are about what has to be done in an organization. Leadership accountabilities, on the other hand, are about how the work gets done. You have to take both into consideration if you want to build a great culture. Culture defines the how.

It is important to regularly assess how your people are achieving operational results, and it is just as important to regularly assess your culture with a Culture Inventory:

  • Are people clear about the values that are espoused – the way we do the work?
  • Are there clearly defined behaviors attached to each of the values so that the expectations of the how are explicit?
  • Are there clearly defined promises between the manager and the employee about what both are agreeing to?
  • Are there clearly defined support agreements, so everyone feels supported?
  • Are there clearly defined consequences – both positive and negative?
  • Is the follow-through clear, so that the agreements remain current and remain useful?

Just as it is good for a regular Culture Inventory, is it important to take a Character Inventory – an assessment of our own personal way we are at work and in the world. Similar to how an organization has a culture – a way of doing things, individuals also have a way.

Much emphasis in organizations is put on the what, and this is true with individuals as well. How many people do you know emphasize the achievements in their life but don’t pay attention to the kind of person they are becoming in the pursuit of these achievements? A Character Inventory assesses the kind of person you are – how you are living your life.

If you want to attract others, you must be attractive. Strong character demands that you shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can give, to endeavor not for what you can have or what you can do, but for who you can be. A job title, the letters behind your name, the size of your office, or your income are not measures of human worth. No success by the world’s standards will ever be enough to compensate for a lack of strong character.

It’s an act of caring to pause every so often and take an inventory of your character.

  • How are you doing in areas such as compassion, reliability, honesty, courage, prudence, contribution, and maturity?
  • Are you one person in public and another in private?
  • Do you focus as much on what kind of a person you are in the world as much as on what you want to achieve in the world?

Like a business that takes regular stock of its inventory, this is a fact-finding process. There can be blind spots to seeing yourself, so get feedback from the most important people in your life. Being a good person precedes being a good leader in any capacity.

Here’s a list of actions that demonstrate strength of character. See how you measure up with this list, or take the time to write your own list:

Let go of what you want.

Prudence is the common sense – that unfortunately is not so common any more – to live with what you can do without, and the ability to find joy in what is here. Every so often it’s good to surrender something we want, but don’t need. In a world that confuses wants with needs, debt continues to rise as character continues to erode. Practice living below your means, not getting everything you want, and finding freedom in enjoying what you have.

Do something difficult every day.

“Do the hard stuff first,” my mother used to say. The earlier in the day you get the difficult work done, the better you’ll feel about yourself and the rest of your day will improve. Whether it’s having a difficult conversation, getting some exercise, or taking a risk, character is built on the foundation of overcoming the natural tendency to take the course of least resistance.

Clean up after yourself.

Something eats away at your character when you sit in your mess or leave your messes for someone else to look after. And if you really want to experience character, walk through a park close to where you live and clean up garbage left behind by someone else.

Look beyond yourself.

Character means choosing service over self-interest. Character grows in the soil of concern for others and the commitment to act on that concern. We can all find ways to make life better for someone less fortunate than ourselves.

Spend less than you earn.

This is truly one of the best character habits you can develop. Spending less than you earn, whether it’s reflected in your home, your car, or the stuff you buy, is another version of prudence. The space you create in your life by doing so will give you freedom, renewed worth, and contentment that money will never buy.

Practice gratitude.

Gratitude is integral to strong character. It’s the antidote to the entitlement that contaminates character. Be an appreciator, rather than a depreciator, of everything that shows up in your life, including opportunities disguised as problems. What you appreciate, appreciates.

Before you criticize the culture you work in or the leaders of the culture, take a good look in the mirror. Leadership is about PRESENCE, not position. What kind of presence do you bring to your work? What kind of person are you? What is your “way” of being in the world? As a personal leader, you are a culture of one. Make it a daily practice to review your character in relation to your daily life, your friends, your acquaintances, and your work. Keep striving to be a better leader by being a better person. This is the real satisfaction and ultimate goal in life.

The Essential Matters – What Is Your Reason For Being?

Last month I was meeting with a group of very talented managers in a debrief session for an event I facilitated in December. We were discussing, among other things, employee engagement when one of the leaders said that what he learned in my session is that employee engagement can be boiled down to one word: authenticity. When people are authentic, they are engaged. They are committed to their own development and they are committed to bring to bring value to others.

Authenticity is about being the person you were created to be and bringing more of that self to what you do. When you are working in an environment that supports and encourages you to be authentic, you are naturally going to be engaged, empowered, and loyal. Authentic leadership is ultimately about discovering your own authentic nature and then creating a culture that enables others to discover and express theirs. It’s that simple and it’s that complex.

A helpful way to express, in practical terms, what it means to be authentic was shown to me by an authentic leader I worked with last year. The focus of my work with his organization was to help him build a stronger, more aligned, high-performing organizational culture. After the workshop he emailed me a diagram of Ikigai (生き甲斐), a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an Ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self and answering three fundamental questions:

  1. What do you love? Pay attention to your energy. Energy is a good indicator of what you love. We are energized by things we love and depleted by things we don’t. Leaders are the stewards of organizational energy. Leaders inspire or demoralize others by how they mobilize, focus, invest, and renew the collective energy of those they serve. To be aware of how your energy affects those around you, it’s important to pay attention to your own energy. How do you feel when you are doing certain things? Is it natural for you or are you trying to imitate somebody? What activities drain you? What activities fill you up? What work would you do if you weren’t paid to do it? What is your passion? What do you love?
  2. What are you good at? You can become good at many things with repetitive actions and thoughts, but this question is asking you to look deeper inside yourself to discover a yearning that is in need of expression. We all have unique talents and gifts. Whether these come easily or not, there is a longing within us to be expressed. It might require developing or it may come naturally. Just as good leadership is about fitting people, not fixing people, when you are doing what you are good at, it fits, not fixes who you are. Discovering what you are good at emerges from asking yourself questions like, “What have you been yearning for? What do you desire intensely to do? What do you do well – that you don’t remember learning? What are your strengths? What are your gifts?”
  3. What does the world need? What is the world asking of you? Where in the world do you feel needed? Perhaps, through your own experiences of grief or compassion you have found a capacity to reach others. Or maybe you see an opportunity to provide a service that is in high demand in the marketplace. Even if you can’t find your passion or your gifts, what the world needs is for you to be at peace with yourself so you can bring peace to the world – a positive, caring attitude to whatever you do. The world needs whatever you can contribute today. Above all, the world needs a generous spirit.

In the upcoming year, set aside some time away from the crushing wave of demands of daily life, to search for and gain some clarity about your Ikigai – your authentic self. Set aside some time every week to reflect, write in a journal, and ask yourself some of these questions. Take a course and explore a hidden passion;  create an authentic community – a coach, mentor, therapist, support group, or confidants – to help guide you to the truth about yourself and what you most desire to bring to the world. Don’t be concerned if you don’t get complete clarity. This is an ongoing, life-long process. What is important is persistent attention. Living authentically is a journey, not a destination.

In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, the Austrian poet and novelist:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart.  Try to love the questions themselves.  Do not seek the answers which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is to live everything, live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.