Authenticity is a subject that is receiving increasing attention lately. Typically, the focus is around authentic leaders; the bosses that dig deep inside themselves, revealing and articulating their dreams and passions and inspiring those around them to follow common cause with their big visions.
This book comes from the premise that authenticity is not just for the boardroom or the Government cabinet table but something that all workers need to be aware of. Since the Industrial Revolution, work has become organised and mechanised, with boundaries constructed between our business and private lives with identities lost in the process. Now, however, in the era of the knowledge economy, individuality, creativity and unique expertise are highly valued commodities and it is more appropriate to think of the whole person.
According to the authors, authenticity is the key to a host of benefits. For employees, these include higher levels of motivation, genuine engagement, personal expression, the ability to leverage personal strengths in workplace activities and better learning through a deeper search for meaning. For the organisation, there’s greater resourcefulness and innovation, potentially higher productivity, greater accountability and the prospect of more agility and adaptability in the face of changing circumstances.
Freedom lies at the heart of helping to achieve this state; the freedom to arrange affairs in the way you think best to achieve your goals, the freedom to speak without censorship from others, especially those in the hierarchy above; and the freedom to actualise – the permission to realise an identity and perspective that is different from others and that reflects your personality and values.
As the nature of work changes to more “work in the head” as the authors term it, traditional work disciplines are no longer as appropriate. What’s required now is stimulation, provocation, variety and diversity of perspectives, as well as time, collaboration and the ability to explore and test hypotheses. This draws upon the experiences that have contributed to the construction of ourselves, is sporadic, fickle and not always containable within the confines of working hours.
Lines are blurred in modern organisations and in reality, sharp demarcation between work and private life isn’t practicable anymore and it’s best to acknowledge that. A parent with a sick child cannot be expected to give fully engaged attention to their paid work. Conversely, a strategy for how to manage a potentially difficult meeting can come to us on the sidelines of our child’s football match just as easily as at our desk.
The book highlights common traits of authentic people. Typically, they are comfortable showing vulnerability and are willing to show that they don’t have all the answers. They are less restricted and bound by conventions and speak from their own vocabulary rather than using corporate language, often exhibiting a less reverential and more playful tone when discussing corporate priorities. They tend to be more energised than most and may have reshaped their role over time to ensure that it is a source of inspiration for them. They also underplay status and hierarchy and tend not to display deference to their superiors.
The authors question the huge imperative on the part of management to get followership and “buy in” to their way of doing things. It’s vital for organisations to avoid a culture of “consent and evade” or worse still “malicious compliance”, where a point is made of strictly and to the letter following the orders of management with the intention of proving that the order is wrong or inappropriate or just won’t work.
Securing followership is not the same as securing ownership of, or responsibility, for the actions that are required. You need to avoid creating a climate in which reliance is placed solely on the knowledge of one person (the leader) rather than leveraging the intelligence and insights of others as well to find the best solution.
With plenty of checklists and questionnaires too, this is a stimulating book that many managers should find thought provoking.