There has been so much talk over the past few years about being authentic, being vulnerable, and letting folks see and experience the ‘real you’. As most of the followers of this blog will attest, I am an ardent believer in authentic and vulnerable leadership…..not to mention embracing this approach in life, in general. Just click on any of the highlighted words in this blog to link you to several previous articles in which I have shared my thoughts over the years. My perspective in a nutshell: what is the point of living a life in a fake, manufactured ‘brand’?
Yet, it is astonishing to see the hypocrisy and blatant fabrication used to create the perception a person wants to create on social media and in life – all in the ‘name’ of authentic leadership. People adorn these self-created masks like a badge of honor, when in reality, though they think they are fooling folks, most everyone ‘sees’ the fraud they have created. And of course we all know that attempting to maintain a life of facades is simply not sustainable. Sooner or later, the ‘real you’ will be revealed whether you like it or not.
So, what is the big deal?
I have three observations, which my clients, friends, and teammates have called to my attention over this past year and encouraged me to write about them. This blog explores how people have attempted to create the image they wish to create – whether it be true or not. They propagate their Facebook feeds with images and videos in the quest of being perceived in a certain way. Now, before you read further, please know I fully realize we are all in the human condition and thus we all have much to learn. And, most, if not all, have desires to put our best foot forward. I am not suggesting otherwise. What I am suggesting is that people, rather than owning who they are, make-up a story or embellish a story to create the image they wish to have. These observations are just that…..observations……as I also believe that we learn and grow most comprehensively when learn from those who cross our paths, and can apply to our own lives.
The first observation is that INAUTHENTIC people tend to manipulate the truth, or hide the truth in totality. We all know, when folks share ‘half-truths’ or just outright lie….trust is eroded. Those who share only part of the truth, wish to create images which are shiny and pretty…..yet, are not real. Let’s take just one example, which several colleagues have raised to me over the past several months, which I have named: the ‘mirage of the spiritual’. Most of us know or have experienced people who pride themselves on robustly sharing their religious commitment and beliefs early and often on their social media accounts. Lots of talk, proclamations, and ‘bless their hearts’ pepper their words and their FB timelines. I am inspired by many of these posts and many inspirational messages; which I consider to be gifts in our world riddled with stress and challenge. However, where it becomes inauthentic is when those same individuals may sign letters and emails with reference and ‘implied endorsement’ of what they have written, with words like: “In His Grace” or “In His Name”…..despite the fact that the content of the notes, emails, or letters may be brimmed with hatred, mean-spirited intention, and self-righteous piety. Their actions in ‘real life’ may be in direct opposition to the image they are attempting to create. Yes, they have strong (and I choose to believe, more often than not, pure intentions); however, when it comes time to forgive, show empathy, be open-minded AND open-hearted, to turn the other cheek, embrace tolerance, be inclusive in any/all ways, be kind and charitable…..they are selective with whom and when they exhibit these actions. It is amazingly hurtful and actually sad to watch; and it is the direct antithesis of their numerous proclamations. Many of my clients and friends have voiced how prevalent this particular movement has become. As a Believer, and a person who believes LOVE trumps all, it hurts my heart to see and experience these individuals and their actions.
The second observation is that truly AUTHENTIC individuals are indeed open-minded. These individuals are tolerant of the human condition and are open to new ideas, knowledge, and approaches. They realize there is no set rule that says they have to agree with someone 100% to love and appreciate them. They are actually eager to pay attention, to learn, to grow, as they realize this may just be the way to become a better version of themselves. They realize they are NOT perfect and are in a constant state of growth….if they choose to be. Most people love to befriend, and be friended by, individuals like this. They feel accepted, seen, heard, and valued…..for who they are. Net: authenticity breeds authenticity. We know how we feel when we can ‘let it all hang out’ with people…..we LOVE being around people like that! No façade is required. We choose to be REAL because they are REAL and they accept folks for who they are…..unabashed, unvarnished, and unmasked.
Finally, the last observation is that individuals (and leaders) who are AUTHENTIC and VULNERABLE attract a following. Let’s be clear, by vulnerability, we are not referring to the individuals who create a virtual Horatio Alger story to embellish overcoming hardship…..who basically fabricate how ‘hard they had it’ before they ‘arrived’ in an effort to spawn admiration. Those folks are attempting to put on a victim’s mask which lays a false foundation to their virtual and fake Phoenix rising. They believe this is being vulnerable, when ironically, it is not…..they are not sharing themselves and their shortcomings at all. They are only victimizing their prior experience, and in many cases in an exaggerated and embellished way to solicit pity and in a strange sick way…..admiration. Ironically, this will backfire on them, as the truth will ALWAYS reveal itself, and again, trust will be eroded if not severed entirely. To be specific, what we mean by vulnerability is openly admitting what we don’t know, owning our mistakes and misjudgments, admitting our lack of discipline and other shortcomings……all in the spirit of being real, aligning to others on our team or in our business, and meeting each other where we have all been or still are. When we work alongside, or for, someone who shares their humanness, we can relate. We want to follow them – as we believe they ‘get it’ as they share that they too have their share of challenges. THAT is being vulnerable.
In closing, in this era of social media and ‘online marketing’, it is very easy to create a brand, an image, or a story which is false, inauthentic, and a MASK hiding the real you. It begs the question: ‘what is the purpose of wearing a mask or costume when the person never lets him/herself be known’? What mask are you wearing? What would happen if you let the ‘real you’ be seen? What do you have to lose? What do you have to gain? What can we learn from revealing our true selves? I know what type of leader I like to follow AND what types of people I want in my life. Real, raw, authentic…..then I know who they are and that is beautiful in every way. So, if this article hit a nerve….perhaps the take-away is that we need to look in the mirror, be true to ourselves, and vow to ‘show up’ warts and all with the fervent belief that folks resonate and relate to those who are REAL in every sense of the word.