Does Authenticity Matter Anymore?

Posted by & filed under Blog, Leading With Gravitas.

We’re in the flurry of the Tory leadership race, which is fascinating, terrifying and utterly captivating in equal measure.

This isn’t primarily because of the political stance, but from a psychological and Gravitas standpoint watching these characters, some puffing their chests, some retreating into the background, placing their various stakes in the sand. And all behaving like they have genuine authenticity. But do they?

As a nation, as a world, you would think authenticity would be one of our primary values and I know it definitely is for many of us individually. But when we look at our leaders, our choices and the people many of us are backing, this could be questioned.

Just look over the pond at America. They have a president who is known to be ingenuine, who is reported to have lied to protect his own self-interest and whose values surrounding women, equality and race are extremely questionable, and that’s being polite.

Contrast this with the man’s self-perception. Despite everything, he genuinely believes he is authentic and that he is being true to himself as a leader, because he believes the stuff coming out of his mouth and Twitter fingers.

And sadly, it’s not too different at home. The man leading the race to be our next Prime Minister has been proved to have lied time and time again but his ‘character,’ ‘charm’ and ‘foppishness’ have seemed to override this lack of sincerity, authenticity and honesty in the eyes of the people backing and voting for him. Using phrases such as, “I tell it like it is”have stirred people to believe that he is being ‘real’. And droves are supporting him because of it.

These facts beggar the question of authenticity and to what extent is it truly valued in today’s society?

Being authentic is not easy – far from it – especially in leadership. From the 1960s, the phrase ‘authentic leadership’ was in vogue calling for leaders to develop their self-identity and be true to their values as a way of engaging their followers and increasing individual and team performance.

And many leaders have done just that and bred and oozed authenticity: Mandela and Obama are prime examples, as they evidenced that when you show up as your authentic self, people will be more open to what you’ve got to say, whether they agree with you or not which, at the moment, is hugely powerful.

The definition of authentic is someone or something trustworthy and real; not fake or copied. So, I ask the question of why we are giving air time and ultimately power to leaders who have, time and time again, proved themselves to be flawed?

Is this a reflection on society? I don’t think so. I work with leaders globally who are doing a fantastic job and a huge part of this is to do with their authenticity. A real sign of a good leader is when they stay true to themselves even in challenging times and are under pressure.

This is where the temptation arises to compromise physical presence or hide behind jargon, whereas the sign of a leader with gravitas is someone who chooses to stay even when the proverbial hits the fan, someone who is truthful and allows their vulnerability to be seen.

If you watch real leaders who have authenticity, you will notice that, particularly in challenging times, they are prepared to show their vulnerability, carefully balancing their strengths with weaknesses that will not detract from their overall impact.

This is about being prepared to show your humanity, to share your emotions at appropriate moments and demonstrate honestly and integrity in a challenging world. Just think back to Jacinda Ardern when faced with the aftermath of the horrendous bombings in New Zealand compared to say, Theresa May when visiting the site of the Grenfell fire. A completely different set of leadership skills and humanity traits.

Vulnerability is a sign of strength and genuine authenticity so let us not sit back but reallywatch the next few days as they develop and see which leaders display authenticity. And which do not.

What do you think?

For more on authenticity and its link to gravitas, read Leading with Gravitas, try the Gravitas Assessment Tool, or sign up to one of our courses.

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