You can't teach Authenticity

I was having a conversation with an HR leader friend of mine the other day, where we discussed the idea of ‘authentic leadership’ and the amount of money that is spent on trying to ‘develop’ authenticity.

It seemed strange to both of us, and here’s why we thought so:

1. Authenticity is not a skill to be developed; it’s the ‘you’ that shows up when all the other ‘stuff’ falls away.

2. No one can teach you to be you; you’re already what they’re trying to teach you to be.

So rather than trying to teach people to be ‘more authentic’, it seems to me much more helpful to point them in the direction of what gets in the way of their natural and innate leadership qualities. When they see the nature of that, the ‘true them’ is naturally more inclined to show up more often, without the masks and defenses, smoke and mirrors.

So what is it that gets in the way?

Some might say it’s defensiveness, insecurity, ego, or image-protection. There may be other labels, but they say a similar thing. “I’ll show people what I think a leader should look like, rather than just showing them me”. The implication is that ‘me’ doesn’t measure up in the leadership stakes. ‘Me’ is too human.

I would put these all in the same category (they’re all products of our ability to think) and say that what really gets in the way of our true and authentic self shining through, is misunderstanding where these feelings of defensiveness, insecurity etc are coming from.

Where’s that then?

First, let me ask you a question: if you knew that you were ok, no matter whether you felt insecure or not, no matter what people were thinking of you, no matter what might happen if you say the ‘wrong’ thing, what difference would that make to how you are being?

Because, you see, your feelings of insecurity and fear that you’re combatting with defences and masks, are not coming from the people who might (or might not) be judging you; they’re not coming from your job security or your patch being threatened; they’re coming from the energy of Thought running through your system and giving you an experience.

That’s why, when you’re not caring about those things, you’re just being you without thinking about it - no special training required.

Thought is our creative energy. We can’t help but make things up with it; Thought’s job is to give us an experience of the world and it does so with consummate skill. The trick is to see those things (insecurity, fear, judgement) for what they are - creations, with awesome special effects - and to realise that the real us is not that. The real us isn’t vulnerable to any of those things. Sticks and stones might break my bones, but what other people think of me has no power to hurt me or to threaten my wellbeing in any way (I know, mixed metaphor, sorry).

When I realise I’m fine, even when I’m feeling insecure (because I recognise those feelings for what they are - creations) it doesn’t make sense any more to don my metaphorical armour or to put on my best mask. I can just be me, which is more than enough, and it’s what people wanted to see, and feel, in the first place.