“Authenticity” has been enjoying a good run as a management and leadership buzzword. When we use it correctly, of course – as a way of ensuring that we do what we say and say what we do, and making sure passion and creativity flourish – it certainly has its place. Though put like that, it is hardly what Kath and Kim would call rocket surgery, is it? Isn’t integrity a better term? And passion is better demonstrated that proclaimed.
Here’s Steve Jobs:
Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.
Well, that all depends, doesn’t it? If you’re one of the smartest, most driven, visionary geniuses in the history of the world, then following your heart and intuition is fine. For the rest of us, following our heads might be a much better option.
The Danger of Authenticity
The danger comes when “authenticity” is harnessed in support of a reverence for, and trust in, one’s “heart” and “intuition” and “inner wisdom”, by people who (unlike Steve Jobs) should not be trusted with their own money or business, let alone with anyone else’s. I knew a business owner (not a client. Never could have been) up to her eyeballs in debt to the tax office; she was still running her business according to her heart, which appeared to be ruling her head; and it was leading her to continue to take terrible business decisions. I think she may have even had angels on her side; though I don’t know that those particular angels had a lot of experience dealing with cash flow.
The trouble is, you can’t pay more attention to one thing without paying less attention to something else. Simple maths. And if you’re busily paying more attention to your “inner wisdom”, then inevitably you’re paying less to your… well, your wisdom. Your brains. Do you reckon the woman with the tax office debt was spending much of her time budgeting or creating a realistic business plan? Inviting the universe to shower you with abundance is no substitute for being commercially savvy. The good Lord may provide… but God helps those who help themselves.
When Authenticity Attacks
And think about your own employees, particularly your younger and/or less experienced ones. Do you want them following their heart and intuition? Really? Do you want them “being authentic” at every opportunity? What if their intuition is uninformed, or, worse, downright wrong? By insisting that “being yourself” is the highest value, we run the risk of falsely empowering people to the point where they trust their intuition when they haven’t (yet) got a clue. And if they are hearing lots of talk about the place of “authenticity” and “being true to your inner self”, is it any wonder that they then do that very thing? You’re setting them up to fail… at your expense.
Besides, I’ve seen examples of leaders and managers making terrible attempts at “being authentic”; situations where a leader has developed a fixation on authenticity, and badly tells stories that are supposed to show their connection with their product. And if I hear another presenter saying that they are “passionate” about their product, I think I might scream: passion is better displayed than proclaimed. If you have to say it, you’re not showing it. The man who has to tell people that he loves his wife when it is not at all obvious may well have something to hide…
Why Authenticity Suits Them… But Not You
I have a theory about all this, which is that self-help gurus and self-appointed experts find that the best way to open up the wallets of their attendees is to urge them to “go with their feelings”; that way, they’re not thinking clearly. Emotion sells. Hence all this talk about “trusting your inner self”; it is really just another way of saying “Don’t think! Just hand over your money! Do it! Do it NOW!” Who does it suit for you to take “massive action”, if not the bloke haranguing you from the stage offering just such a “massive action”, all at a low, low price (compared to what?) if you “act now”? I’m sure you’ve been to those workshops too. Isn’t it interesting how rapidly that enthusiasm cools when you step away and try and wonder just what was being sold… except the selling itself?
What This Means For Your Business
The messages you absorb will be the ones you project, and therefore the ones your employees will absorb. While it’s important to allow creativity and passion to flourish, it is crucial to make sure that you are using your brain as well as your gut. If you give too much credit to how things “feel” and to being “true to your inner wisdom”, there is the possibility that you are taking a shortcut that omits planning, stress-testing and evaluation. In a single sentence: having integrity in your business is not incompatible with using commercial wisdom!
If you want to “access your inner wisdom”, just Google it: you won’t be short of offers for help, from people who couldn’t run any business other than one that encourages people to access their inner wisdom.
If however you’d like help clarifying the values your business lives by, and thus the messages your business sends to its customers and to its workers, contact me here or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call me on 0423 793887.