Updated: Aug 17, 2021
By Sabine Grunwald
George (2003), the successful leader and CEO of Medtronic, defines authenticity as “being yourself; being the person you were created to be”. ‘Authenticity’ refers to “being what it purports to be, genuine, real” (Skjei, 2015). The term ‘authenticity’ can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophy (e.g., Socrates’ focus on self-inquiry) and is reflected by the Greek aphorism “Know Thyself” (Gardner et al., 2011). According to George (2003) an authentic leader genuinely desires to serve others through their leadership and lead with purpose, meaning, and values. The authentic leadership model developed by Skjei (2015) consists of three pillars: (1) Authentic presence, i.e., the choice to take personal responsibility for who we are; (2) Skillful communication, including self-disclosure, inquiry and conflict resolution based on emotional competencies; and (3) Effective action motivated by service that is compassionate or empathetic.
Is There An Absolute Authenticity?
#Authenticity sounds great! Who does not want to be present, authentic and feel fully alive and happy in this moment and future moments? Let’s get real; hardly anybody of us is authentic every moment of the day or our whole life. There is no absolute authenticity, a state “frozen-in-time” where our self is static and continuously authentic. Our self and experiences change moment-to-moment (relative authenticity). This moment-to-moment authenticity can be practiced and enhanced through mindfulness deliberately focusing on what arises, what is. Mindfulness practices enhance our ability to stay present – even if our life sometimes gets a little crazy, stressful and overwhelming (Ggggrrrrrrrr !!!).
The power of now by connecting to the fundamental ground of “what is” brings forth authenticity. In this nowness we embody all aspects of one’s life and we experience joy, happiness, feeling fully alive and perhaps even sacredness. This #embodied self-awareness is different from the conceptual self-awareness we may read about in books. Fogel (2013) points out that conceptual self-awareness has logical quality that is expressed in abstract language centered in the left hemisphere of our brain. It is distant, disembodied lacking connection to our felt sense and awareness of the present moment experience. In contrast, embodied self-awareness is a direct encounter with inner knowledge. This embodied self-awareness emerges from the lived experience of the moment. It is spontaneous and felt through sensations in our body, feelings, emotions, images and reflections of our experience. Embodying implies to embrace positive, neutral and negative emotions. An embodied, authentic person has the capability to experience positive feelings and emotions, such as kindness, love, tenderness, connection, and openness to a situation as well as negative ones, such as anger, fear and ignorance. The difference of an authentic person’s response is the reaction to these feelings, sensations, images – in a nutshell everything that bubbles up. For instance, a leader who embodies self-awareness and embraces #mindfulness and #authenticity is not pulled to react in unhealthy/dysfunctional fashion (e.g., emotionally or physically hurting others or oneself) or self-centered (not serving others) when responding to a crisis situation (e.g., a meltdown of a student in the classroom, financial markets tumbling down due to a political crisis). So instead of responding with blame, anger, shouting, aggression, ignorance or worse the authentic leader asks “how can I serve this moment best to bring forth the best for all?”. An authentic leader’s key skill is emotional resilience and equanimity being fully present to what is, an inner knowing that embraces not only oneself but aims to serve the well-being and happiness of others.
Intermingled Authenticities of I and Leaders
Here we may pause and reflect for a moment. Do I strive to embody my own authenticity or blindly follow a leader’s voice? Do I really understand myself, my beliefs and values that serve as a moral compass and provide integrity? Do I connect to my heart to ignite my soul’s deeper purpose that evokes serving others and creates a “better” world? How many mindful and mindless moments did I have today, last week, over the last years?
It is easy to fall into the trap when I feel angry, frustrated and dissatisfied to project these feelings onto somebody else and follow that leader because that leader speaks in a voice of anger, frustration and expresses dissatisfaction putting the blame on others or pushing his/her own, self-centered agenda. Authenticity starts with myself, embodying my moment-to-moment experience and enhancing my cognizance in life through mindfulness. Ahhhh, blaming a leader to be inauthentic would be falling into the same trap. I do have the choice to deny acceptance and support of a leader I believe is disembodied, inauthentic and self-serving creating more harm, turmoil, pain and suffering. And magically if I express this choice I am likely to be fully present, embodied and authentic.
Fogel, A. 2013. Body Sense: The Science and Practice of Embodied Self-Awareness. New York: Norton.
Gardner, W.L., C.C. Cogliser, K.M. Davis and M.P. Dickens. 2011. “Authentic Leadership: A Review of the Literature and Research Agenda.” The Leadership Quarterly, Leadership Quarterly Yearly Review, 22 (6): 1120–45. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2011.09.007.
George, B. (William W.). 2003. Authentic Leadership – Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publ.
Skjei, S. 2015. “Slide Set: What Is Authentic Leadership?” Naropa University, Authentic Leadership Program, Graduate Certificate Program.