You’re Not Your Own Authenticity

In yesterday’s post defining authentithesis, I remarked about how easy it is to observe lack of authenticity in others, but difficult to be objective in self-assessment. Today, I discovered that the Harvard Business Review’s December 2005 issue has some light to shed:

While the expression of an authentic self is necessary for great leadership, the concept of authenticity is often misunderstood, not least by leaders themselves. They often assume that authenticity is an innate quality—that a person is either authentic or not. In fact, authenticity is a quality that others must attribute to you. No leader can look into a mirror and say, “I am authentic.” A person cannot be authentic on his or her own. Authenticity is largely defined by what other people see in you and, as such, can to a great extent be controlled by you. If authenticity were purely an innate quality, there would be little you could do to manage it and, therefore, little you could do to make yourself more effective as a leader.

Indeed, managers who exercise no control over the expression of their authentic selves get into trouble very quickly when they move into leadership roles.


Someone also asked me the question “so what’s the difference between authentithesis and plain old hypocrisy?” Hypocrisy is about claiming to have some trait or character or believe a certain thing (usually something virtuous, desirable, or publicly “good”) and then acting in a totally different way. Authentithesis covers hypocrisy plus the other end of the spectrum too: say you have a horribly undesirable or publicly reprehensible trait, opinion, or behavior, and yet you try to cover it up. And then you try convince other people (and yourself) you don’t have that trait, or behavior, or problem. The circular paths dance around dealing with the issues directly, and using even the most negative traits or behaviors as positive opportunities for growth.

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