Authenticity. It is the watchword, and of course, everyone wants it! The proliferation in nearly all current leadership articles makes it seem the latest, greatest discovery. It’s the GOAT (greatest of all time). Post COVID-19, the underscore on authenticity is with the best of intentions, a search for meaning, a sense of belonging and psychological safety. It is seen as a cure-all and in demand by our new world.
The spotlight shines right on the cornea of every business leader’s eye. The pressure is on and if not done ‘right’, expect reviews, feedback, and comments, all amplified online and via social media. Never have businesses been so closely watched, and that’s the price to be paid. Being the real deal in business can seem precarious. Ironically, the solution is to be authentic.
The pandemic ushered in a new level of authenticity, and if your view on being authentic is to bear all – then join the collective and thank COVID-19. After the trauma and upheaval, we may be left with a sole prismatic view of what authenticity looks like. We observed full transparency from our leaders, as well as compassion, empathy, vulnerability, and kindness. We witnessed their raw emotions and strain, at home, in t-shirts and even pyjamas, with their families and pets. We needed that as we were ‘all in it together’. And secretly, we loved it because those business leaders are ‘just like us.’
Now, we approach the next phase on the horizon, growth and constructing the future. As we move forward, adjusting and changing with the new world, there is no room for pyjamas and daily vulnerability. And, the catchphrase of ‘bring your true self to work’, well, that would be a mistake for a business owner/ leader.
Transparency and compassion remain; however, authenticity moves to a different dimension.
Too authentic or the Full Monty
Being authentic does not equate to full disclosure, a filterless discourse, nor having your business exhale (your) views on all that passes under your nose. Authenticity must prevail for businesses and their leaders, but so must healthy boundaries, respect, self-awareness, accountability and privacy. An authentic business that practices its values shows integrity, attracts the right customer profile, builds loyalty and has higher employee engagement.
Views on politics, religion and even many popular social issues and causes do not belong in the business arena unless this is what your business does. If you sell ice cream, no one wants to know about American politics. Your customer may want to understand the nutritional value and is the produce sustainably sourced, environmentally friendly, and ethical, but beyond that, you might confuse and alienate your audience. Or worse, seen to be trying too hard.
Too authentic or signalling
Trying to appease all is not authentic. Reading the collective is part of pre-empting customer demand and is good business practice. But trying to be a part of every social cause, and there are a lot of them, will see your business as ingenuine. Addressing environmental issues is a smart business decision. But doing so only because it is a strategy and not a belief may see you come unstuck.
What else does your business do to support the environment? That will be the follow-through question from employees, would-be employees and your consumers.
Likewise, limp mission and vision statements without supportive actions and behaviours are another signalling mistake. Loud proclamations on your website, online, socials etc., about social issues draw attention to empty intentions. Whatever motivates you to embark on the path of social causes will be witnessed through actions and commitments.
Statements at the end of email signatures betokening the latest social concerns are all well and good- if your business progresses in that direction. Be careful of the bombardment of every issue and cause. Not only will you confuse your audience, but most certainly, subconsciously, it will be recognised for what it is – signalling and posturing.
By those cynical, such an approach is seen as fickle or insipid. But is it? The chameleon lizard changes its colour to suit the environment. It helps to blend in and provides safety. Adjusting your style for your audience should always be a smart choice for an adept communicator. It does not mean being duplicitous but rather communicating in a manner more likely to be heard. Play the chameleon, listen, understand, and protect your business. At the same time, you may learn more about the other view. Who knows, maybe your view may not be right after all.
There is a new authenticity bred on transparency, but surely, certain things must stay silent, sacred and honoured. It is the dilemma of the ‘anonymous gift’ and charity act- the delicate dance between sharing for all world to know and standing silently for a cause.
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