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April 8, 2016

Who Can Afford to be Authentic?

Keith Jackson


Over a long and varied career, there have been occasions when I've been troubled by crises of conscience.

They were the times when I wanted to march into the boss's office, deliver a scathing diatribe against the organization's behavior or culture, turn on my heel, and stalk out, never to return. But I didn't. I swallowed the company line like bad medicine, or soaked up whatever personal injustice I had suffered, and carried on.

Once or twice, I canvassed the opinions of friends and colleagues. Their responses were sympathetic (most of them had been in the same boat at one time or another) but there never seemed to be a satisfactory counter-argument to the oft-quoted line, "Just let it go. Principles won't pay the mortgage."

Morals and principles seemed to be the luxury of the young and single. I knew that I could live with myself much easier if I left an unscrupulous organization and started again somewhere far less financially rewarding, but more personally fulfilling. But it was the potential impact on my family that kept me cowed.

Ultimately, I did part company with one organization. It was an easier decision to make at that time, as my family position was very different.

These days, personal values and fulfilment appear to play a much bigger part in people's decisions to join or stay with an organization. The buzzword is "authenticity," the notion of holding true to your values and beliefs and being "true to yourself." It's not just a personal ideal – people want their leaders and organizations to be authentic, too.

People are attracted by more than just a paycheck. They want to work with an organization that shares their values, that has a strong sense of identity and purpose, and where their role has meaning.

And organizations that lack authenticity, or that fail to embrace not only the traditional elements of diversity but also diversity of ideas and behaviors, risk missing out on a deep pool of available skills and talent.

Values and authenticity seem like vague and difficult things to pin down. But leadership experts believe there are practical strategies and frameworks you can put in place to create an authentic organization. We explore the ideas of two such experts in our article, Goffee and Jones' DREAMS.

What do you think makes an organization "authentic?" Does it really matter to you? Let us know in the comments section, below.

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4 comments on “Who Can Afford to be Authentic?”

  1. I lead with the succinct definition of authenticity: 'to be an original of yourself, not a copy of someone or something else'. That works only if the original is one that meets the characteristics of ethics and integrity!

    Apart from that point, authenticity is experienced rather than observed. When leaders lead with authenticity, when they show who and what they really are - warts and all - authenticity becomes believable and even desirable in the organisation. It is not weakness; it is a profound strength to show the authentic you.

    1. Great comment, Theo. I particularly like this: "when they show who and what they really are – warts and all – authenticity becomes believable and even desirable in the organisation."
      Do you have experience of working with a leader like this?

  2. There appears to be an expanding divide between individual personal/professional values and those of employers, leading to increased levels of dissatisfaction in the workplace. It seems authenticity in the workplace is not valued; it is feared.
    Employers and society have evolved to the point where the historical view of work being a simple swapping of time for money is no longer relevant, and it is entirely appropriate for people to seek and gain genuine enjoyment and satisfaction from their roles, workplaces, company cultures and professional relationships.
    Only when a commitment to authenticity and "Living your truth" is at the heart of workplace culture will we see a societal shift towards employment as a vehicle for genuine satisfaction and happiness.

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