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November 28, 2016

Beware of Authenticity

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-12-25-02-pmHow important is authenticity in a leader? I’ve been asking myself this question after a meeting that SCNetwork held this past week, when a generational expert pointed out the importance of transparency and honesty to millennials in the employment relationship. That’s not to imply that any generation considered these things unimportant, but it struck home given the aftermath of Trump’s election. Before November 8th, you may recall that a number of prominent CEOs openly spoke of their deep concerns about Trump’s suitability as President. One must assume that they were voicing their true feelings of distrust/contempt, in an attempt to influence voters. Now that the results are in, it is not hard to imagine that Trump’s “Wall of Shame” might now include some of those CEOs who have publicly questioned his competence and/or his biases. Certainly, in retrospect, some of those CEOs might have been far better off to have taken a non-partisan stance and kept their political views to themselves. Yet one assumes they were being authentic since they were true to their own personality, spirit, beliefs, or character, which is the definition of authenticity. Adroitly, some of these same CEOs are taking a more conciliatory stance. Quotes like “progress does not move in a straight line,” or “let’s see what an out of the box, non-typical, non-politician can do for America,” are positions that are far mellower than the disparaging language used before the election. Not that this repositioning would be a surprise to anyone – keeping the right side of Washington would be a logical move for industries that are governed by legislation, or rely on sizeable government contracts to stay alive. I am sure that more than a few boards will be asking the question as to whether CEO authenticity served their organizations well?

There are some, of course, who will not recant their negative opinions. How would you react to an email from your CEO who rejected Trump’s “nationalist, anti-immigrant and hateful policies” adding that anyone who disagrees should immediately resign “because you have no place here?” There can be no doubting this CEO’s authenticity either, but does that mean that anyone who disagrees with any beliefs that this CEO holds, has no place in that organization? I suspect that there will be some who have financial worries who will bite their tongues and simply go underground with a mindset that might very well work against the organization’s best interests. A group of colleagues with similar views, who bemoan the lack of respect, could do irreparable harm over time. Conversely, hardline Trump supporters might well be happy to claim that they have been constructively dismissed and pursue a class action suit. Whether pro-Trump, or anti-Trump, is the authenticity of this CEO worth the pain that has surely resulted?

I am reminded of Shakespeare’s Hamlet who said, “to thine own self be true.” This demands leaders who do not delude themselves; rather they are deeply aware of their strengths, their limitations, and their emotions.” Kevin Kruse would observe, “they do not act one way in private and another in public; they don’t hide their mistakes or weaknesses out of fear of looking weak. They also realize that being self-actualized is an endless journey, never complete.” I have no idea of how authentic Donald Trump truly is, but given some of his outlandish outbursts displayed during the presidential race, the argument has been made that people saw an honesty and transparency that his competitor failed to demonstrate. In that respect some of the honesty and candour expressed by CEOs, and even Trump, was refreshing.  Chuck Klosterman’s quote comes to mind when he said, “I honestly believe that people of my generation despise authenticity, mostly because they’re all so envious of it.” Can it be true that so many of us have become so disingenuous?

Hamlet reminds us that this is a personal journey. Do we stand up for the things we believe in, or do we simply vacillate between authenticity, when it serves us well, and being a phony when we are put to the test. C.G. Jung said it perfectly; “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”

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Ian Hendry is the president of the Strategic Capability Network. In his Morning Musings, he provides insight on issues facing today’s business leaders and looks at subject matter related to upcoming SCNetwork events.

How important is authenticity in a leader?  Do we stand up for the things we believe in, or do we simply vacillate between authenticity, when it serves us well, and being a phony when we are put to the test?   Please share your thoughts and antidotes on our Linkedin page.

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