The concept of authenticity has its roots in Greek philosophy: ‘To thine own self be true’. Authenticity has been described as the unobstructed operation of one’s true, or core, self in one’s daily enterprise. However, dangers arise if people assume that their personal values take precedence over other standards. Some assume that this justifies unprofessional behavior, e.g. personal criticism of colleagues rather than simply focusing on the issues. This undermines professionalism and can quickly contribute to a loss of motivation and breakdown of trust.
The assumption that ‘our way is the best way’ is invariably a limiting and potentially damaging viewpoint. In organizations, problems can emerge when systems are inadequate and managers lack the conviction required to surface problems and confront dysfunctional behavior. The success of any organization can then be threatened by leadership failings that include poorly designed systems, resistance to feedback, and inability to anticipate changing requirements. The shortcomings include a lack of personal conviction, which is important when dealing with unacceptable behavior.
Effective leadership builds on four core elements of authenticity. People who are regarded as ‘authentic’ demonstrate higher levels of self-awareness, insight and openness, and the ability to achieve ‘balanced processing’ of information.
This involves understanding your unique talents, strengths, sense of purpose, core values, beliefs and desires… are you open to new ideas, and receptive to feedback that helps you maintain and develop this insight?
Balanced Processing of Information
Effectiveness builds on a willingness to consider multiple sides of an issue, including other people’s views. Are you able to recognize that you may not see or appreciate all the issues?
Trust develops when there is openness and truthfulness in close relationships. We can use selective self-disclosure to acknowledge that we’re not perfect. How well do you build trust and appear genuine when working with others?
Authentic Behavior / Action
This involves responding to situations in a way that is appropriate, in the context of your role, whilst respecting your core values. Do you behave (as far as possible) in a way that is consistent with these values? Important themes are explored in Seven Principles for Exceptional Performance.
Authentic Leadership is based on the idea that through increased self-awareness, self-regulation, and positive modelling, authentic leaders foster the development of authenticity in followers. The theory suggest that Authentic Leaders draw on their positive Psychological Capital or ‘PsyCap’ to make clear to others what is required and generate positive energy. They create meaning and a genuine sense of purpose, so that others develop a sense of personal ownership and become ‘stakeholders’ in the activity.
Evidence suggests that exceptional performance also requires additional steps. These include ensuring adequate support/resources are in place, and encouraging discretionary effort by involving people in developing and implementing solutions to problems. Use of 360 degree feedback, coupled with awareness of the Seven Principles for Exceptional Performance, build on the four elements of authenticity and help develop overall effectiveness.