I recently read the book on “Leadership BS” written by Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organisational behaviour who is an expert on the subject of power and leadership. The book speaks about how leadership really works versus what is preached and propagated. The chapter on “Authenticity: Misunderstood and Overrated” made me think: we often use the word authenticity but what does it really mean?
“Authentic” refers to any work of art that is an original, not a copy. An authentic person is a person who is true to oneself and exhibits true feelings. Difficult, isn’t? To be authentic all the while?
When one is young, it is easy to exhibit true feelings. In school when one did not like a classmate it was easy to avoid him or her. As we grow up, avoidance is not always a tenable option. Often, in adult life, personal feelings are either suppressed or worked upon as the need of the hour demands. In a limited sense, you lose the freedom to act on your personal beliefs, feelings and be your “authentic self” all the while. Does that mean you are not true to yourself?
I am an introvert by nature. I do not like sharing my personal life with too many people, I have few friends on Facebook and even fewer close friends in real life but a lot of acquaintances with whom I interact in a friendly manner. I do not enjoy speaking in public forums. I prefer sitting in my room – analysing, thinking, reading and connecting the dots to build a bigger picture. But I am also an academician who loves connecting with young students, learning from them, seeing the world through their eyes and also impacting knowledge. Doesn’t this seem contradictory?
Well !! I am comfortable and love the different roles I play. As an academician at work, a social being, connecting with peers and students and also easily becoming an introvert, getting into my cocoon where I am with myself, avoiding interaction while reflecting, thinking and of course connecting the dots. Being “Differently authentic” at different times, comfortable with both situations knowing that I am being TRUE to the situation is important to me even though I may be portraying a different image at different times.
Different roles require different skills and we humans are adaptable creatures, we learn to mould ourselves to the need of the hour. Adapting oneself to succeed in a role cannot be tagged as being unauthentic as you are being authentic to role you are playing.
This just convinces me that we often need to be true to what situations and people around expect. Sometimes it could be emotionally or physically demanding as it may contradict some learned patterns but it may be important. To appreciate what the role demands and play it to the fullest even though it is internally difficult can be called being authentic to the role.
Authenticity then implies flexibility too, as we are never fully aware of what we can become. Perhaps, in this sense, authenticity is being true to multiple roles, while not violating a core sense of right and wrong, a set of values that we hold inviolate.
In doing so, we discover a deeper sense of authenticity, for you cannot be true to yourself without experimenting with roles and boundaries; in doing so, you expand your understanding of who you are.