Authenticity Deficit Disorder

[Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from . Miles is the author of Why Leadership Sucks: Fundamentals of Level 5 Leadership and Servant Leadership.

Authenticity is doing what you promise, not “being who you are.” SETH GODIN

If authenticity is as Seth defines, then we have a dearth of authenticity in our world today. We routinely make promises every day that we either have no intention of following through or do not consider to be promises. We don’t have an attention deficit disorder pandemic but rather an authenticity deficit disorder one. If we don’t recognize this and take action to consider our commitments more carefully and follow through on those commitments, younger generations that follow and look up to us will reject and distrust our leadership. Rarely do we keep our word if it will cost us, but we should always keep our word . . . especially when it costs us. We are so concerned about our short-term interest (time, money, reputation, etc.) that we lose sight of the long-term trust that will be gained by sticking to our promises. What if your promise will cost you your job or will cause your house to go into foreclosure? Or what if it will cause you to lose your professional license or something else of great value? We all have a price above which we will sacrifice our integrity; my challenge to you is to break that barrier, choosing to never sacrifice your integrity no matter the consequences. Your word, and by extension your name and reputation, is worth far more than money or time.

Show Us, Don’t Tell Us

“No plan is worth the paper it is printed on unless it starts doing. There is too much telling in this life and not enough doing.” WILLIAM H. DANFORTH

We desperately need leaders who will guide us with less talk and more action. Please show us; don’t tell us. God knows we have enough of the opposite. Put another way, “Ignore what people say, watch what they do.” This applies in relationships as well as in companies. How often do dating couples tell each other they love each other, yet their selfish actions prove otherwise. Have you ever had someone apologize for an action, and then turn right around and behave the same way? It is no longer enough to say something if we won’t follow through on our word. When my children approach dating age, I will endeavor to instill this in them, so they can avoid the kind of flaky people who don’t honor their word. Mean what you say, and say what you mean. It is rather simple to explain yet so hard to practice consistently. Another application of this principle is to take time now and then to get your hands dirty at work. Lend help in some area of your organization that involves manual labor or other low-status work. You will prove to others that you are committed to the vision when you roll up your sleeves and get dirty. When people see that you are not above doing any job, they rally behind you. If you get this right, it will breed a fierce loyalty in people that cannot be coerced, controlled, or managed any other way.

Substance Over Style

When I see an unresolved issue, I jump in. When I’m walking around campus, if there’s trash, I pick it up.JACK DANGERMOND

We need more substance over style, since we have a plethora of the opposite in our culture. Flashy looks good on the surface, but a flashy mask is probably covering up a lot of warts. Without deep and substantive leadership, the best-case scenario is that nothing gets done. At worst, lies are told as to what is being done and/or what the real problems are. The world needs more outwardly boring, mundane leaders that get things accomplished and speak with integrity about the problems facing the organizations they are leading. The time has come for transparent leaders who choose substance over style; forget the upcoming election or whatever other threat looms. Let’s choose to do the right thing for the organization and put ourselves in harm’s way if necessary.

Build Icebergs, Not Skyscrapers

The foolish are continually busy building an edifice above the surface, while the wise are building below the surface where no one can see. You may have seen the artist’s image of an iceberg with 90% of it below the water’s surface. You can’t see it normally, but what lies below has an enormous impact. Just ask the captain of the RMS Titanic. We would often rather build something much more noticeable (a skyscraper) because we want to wow others with our outward accomplishments. But what we build for others to notice is usually a façade covering a shaky foundation. With the passage of time, others will be able to see past the façade to the reality of both strategies. Eventually, many will marvel at the wise person’s accomplishments as if they just happened overnight. They will see the creaking, crumbling construction of the foolish for what it is–but only after much time has passed. The wise instinctively know that it is better to build things out of view and then execute their plans with surprising accuracy. The foolish want to be noticed the instant they accomplish anything.

The Bottom Line

Others are watching us leaders to see if we will do what we say we are going to do and whether we will act in our own or the best interest of others. If they find us to be authentic on both counts, then they will trust and follow our leadership.