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Leaders Gone Wrong: How Authenticity Goes Too Far
The most important thing those striving for authenticity need to do, then, is ensure it’s used productively. “Authenticity can give a license to tell the truth but do nothing to evolve the truth, and if they aren’t together, it’s just a license to be a power broker; to be mean; to be discarding; and not to care about the community,” Zander said.
Authenticity can also backfire for executives themselves in that it provides an excuse for laziness in their own development. In working with clients to help them prepare for public speaking engagements, Klaus reports they have often told her, “I don’t want to practice too much because then I come off as inauthentic.” She presses them for explanation of what this means to them. “Often what I found was that it was an excuse in those situations not to do the work, not to prepare and I just kept hearing it be used very glibly,” she said.
As an executive coach, Klaus takes clients through an in-depth self-assessment that includes a 360-degree performance review from their bosses, colleagues and direct reports. They “identify really how they see themselves and how other people see them and often there’s a disconnect,” she said.
The point is to reinforce and strengthen good behaviors and alleviate or eliminate bad ones. Zander feels this type of self-analysis is essential, and points out executives unwilling to do so while hiding behind authenticity then become inauthentic. “If a person can’t humbly talk about their own shortcomings, then they’re not being authentic,” she said. “And if they’re not doing anything about their shortcomings then they’re being sick with their power. It gives a license to a powerful enough person not to deal with their dark side or what doesn’t work about them.”
There’s a fine line between being authentic and not, and to a certain extent the bad effects of either are the nature of the job role. “Those leaders who we hear a lot about who are the titans of industry, we almost give them a pass for the arrogance; the swagger; the rudeness,” Klaus said.
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