In a terrific piece this morning at HBR.org, Deborah Gruenfeld and Lauren Zander lay out the case for authenticity in leadership, and where "hiding behind the authenticity excuse" can go awry. From the post:
In practice, we've observed that placing value on being authentic has become an excuse for bad behavior among executives. It's important to realize that what makes you you is not just the good stuff — your values, aspirations and dreams; the qualities others love most. For most people, what comes naturally can also get pretty nasty. When you are overly critical, non-communicative, crass, judgmental, or rigid, you are probably at your most real — but you are not at your best. In fact, it is often these most authentic parts of a leader that need the most management.
Why is this so important to our work? Because any change initiative, any Lean or shared services integration project, anything that challenges the way people work brings out our most authentic selves. It's this authentic self that is backed into a corner, wary of change, and protective of what we know and understand. When we're backed into a corner responding by emotion, we're unable to process the most difficult tasks which, ultimately, might be the best for us and our organizations.
As leaders, being able to reflect critically on our own behavior when we feel challenged, and being able to listen to others as they describe who they perceive us to be without defense or justification, can be the foundation for far greater change to come. But it takes hard work and an open mind to get there.