Face-off: The Truth about Authenticity

By: Dr. MaryJo Burchard

Organizations claim to value authenticity, but if we don’t understand what authenticity really is, it can seem like an unrealistic expectation or the quickest way to help your naysayers shoot you where you’re most vulnerable. Yet your authenticity will determine your effectiveness as a leader – and more crucially, as a human being.

Authenticity isn’t mushy, “kumbaya,” hippie nonsense.

If your image of a strong leader is a chest-out warrior in full armor ready for battle, authenticity may seem like a ridiculous free-for-all. But authenticity is calculated and brave. It is simply:

  • Intentionally facing your truest self, and
  • Engaging your true self appropriately in your daily interactions.

Integrity is impossible without authenticity.

If you have integrity, people who know you in every context will describe the same essential person. Behavioral integrity is therefore not something you can “self-report.” Others have to see your integrity and agree that you possess it.

Integrity requires integration: the messy, hard work of letting all the contradicting pieces of you face off and fight it out until a shared truth remains. This cannot be done without the willingness to be authentic.

Without authenticity, your perception of the world is a farce.

You are not your role. You are more than a sum of your outputs. You are a human being. The human being is mind, body, and soul – it’s multidimensional, and the human experience is multisensory. Human capacity to think and feel, to do andto be, infinitely enriches, deepens, and complicates the big picture of reality.

Severing your “professional” self from the rest of who you are will therefore skew your understanding of the full reality, because you are reducing your assessment of reality to a single dimension. You do your job a certain way because of all the dimensions of your human experience - what you believe, what you perceive, and what you feel – whether you realize it or not.

If you “leave your personal life at the door,” you deny yourself access to the deeper forces at work in you and in the organization. This restricts your capacity to engage on anything but a surface level.

How can this impact your leadership? You will struggle to gain and perpetuate trust. Your team will lack a sense of safety and cohesion. Over time, you may begin hemorrhaging good people, keeping the cutthroats and the disengaged.

Without authenticity, core issues will go unresolved because you will be addressing the wrong problems. The deepest issues will begin to be addressed when you engage with people as human beings – yourself included.

Authenticity can save your life.

Think about it: a role is a list of duties and expectations. A role has no human need, no capacity for deep connection. Therefore, if you allow a role to consume your identity, you forfeit your capacity to deeply connect with others. You forfeit your capacity to “let it go” and just rest. No amount of interventions, no amount of vacations can compensate for the vacuum created by an unwillingness to engage with life as an entire person.

Over-identification with a role has caused countless leaders to crash and burn. Being authentic is scary, because it requires being vulnerable – but you are mistaken if you think being inauthentic makes you “safe.” Without intentional engagement with your whole personhood, you are at risk of losing your capacity to truly live.

Waging authenticity

Brené Brown calls the hard work of fighting to reconcile your internal contradictions the “rumble.”

Here are some questions to get you started in that rumble to get real:

  • What core beliefs, thoughts, and feelings can others easily observe in my daily life?
  • What core thoughts and feelings are uncomfortable for me to admit are mine?
  • What do these thoughts and feelings say about gaps and inconsistencies I sense that I have?
  • What is in danger if I cannot resolve these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about myself? 
  • How can I engage appropriately with this knowledge about myself?
    • Who has power to help me resolve these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs (knowledge, skills, experience) and help me address the gaps and inconsistencies?
    • What should I avoid doing with this knowledge about myself(gushing with no filter, garnering pity, blaming, etc.)?
  • How will I know when I have successfully rumbled?

The rumble isn’t easy, so the biggest thing to remember is that you will need to wage and cultivate authenticity for your entire life.

You don’t have to arrive tomorrow. Just get started on the journey and give yourself room to grow. The payoffs for authenticity are worth the rumble.


Follow us on LinkedIn to get thoughtful articles on the bridges leaders must build and cross to inspire greater performance.

Comments are closed.