The Leadership-Authenticity Connection

Posted by Dr. Holly Latty-Mann on

Leadership is all about relationships, and authenticity is all about making meaningful human connections that feel natural and real. So how does one nurture experiencing his or her true self such that these connections come easily?

But first, here are a few signs that one is not quite there yet:

1) Have you ever known someone whose personality is like a chameleon depending upon who is in the room? Not only does instant credibility remain elusive this way, the “chameleon act” takes a tremendous amount of energy to pull off in a manner the actor believes is credible.

2) Then there are those who have worked hard at creating an “act” of what they believe works. It has been practiced so routinely over the years that it even feels somewhat natural to that person. However, it’s not authentic when the other person doesn’t experience the connection as natural and real.

3) When people talk “to” or “at” someone, they are not speaking “with” that person. Even the eyes betray any kind of genuine, natural connection.

This abbreviated list of inauthentic behaviors are easy to spot for those who have been on the path of authenticity for some time – but not to worry, the truly authentic will notice it without being harsh in judgment and thus not take the lack of connection personally. Still, it could cost the actor opportunities for new business.

Nurturing our “true self,” the term the coaching industry refers to as authenticity, becomes easier when we understand what’s behind the “act” or what’s behind all that energy expended to feel natural and connected.

Authenticity starts at birth. Children simply are. Then the socialization process at some point seems to suggest we need to be something or someone else. Whether peer pressure, parental or teacher approval, these stressors are as real to children as the work pressures in the corporate world are to “adult children”. Yet the best remedy to stress is being authentic in the moment in any given situation and with any given person, whether your nemesis or best friend.

So how does one nurture experiencing his or her true self such that these connections come easily? To make this blog short and pointed at best, I’ll share an observation from several decades of working on an intimate level with people professionally and personally. This idea is not in the mainstream literature of how to nurture and grow authenticity and may seem a bit edgy in light of how we’re told it’s not politically correct to broach matters of faith, religion, and such.

Remember the trend to think holistically – and thus spiritually – started in the late 1990s as a result of prestigious business schools and medical centers boldly claiming this need.

So the best answer I can give to the leadership-authenticity connection is this: Nurture a faith or ideology or spirituality that creates a grounded, anchored experience of yourself, the person you both know and like. It need not be any one faith or ideology in particular, but something that acts as your guidepost/stake in the ground. Fortunately we human beings know when we’re heading in the right direction because it simply feels good. So focus on how you feel rather than applying logic. You cannot think yourself there.

This can be a challenge for those who either believe or know themselves to be endowed with great intelligence. That’s exactly why the Wall Street Journal published research a few years back on how intelligence gets in the way of leadership. That’s because those who rely on logic as their brand of leadership miss the heart of leadership – feelings and emotions. Winston Churchill said great leaders must be “drenched in emotions”. That’s because feelings have everything to do with quality, authentic relationships, which represents the cornerstone of effective leadership.

However, here is some logic for those who must have it as an argument to go this route for authenticity:  Data analysis of a questionnaire I use in our self-awareness leadership programs has rendered tremendous credibility regarding how nurturing even a simple faith nurtures one’s authenticity. One question asks whether or not the respondent has a faith. Some answer with “Spirituality”. That works. Those who simply say, “no,” almost always tend to be the ones struggling the most with authenticity issues. And those who struggle with authenticity issues also tend to struggle with leadership issues. And that’s the leadership-authenticity connection.

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