Monday, 12 April 2010

Authenticity

“To the world you are just one person; but to one person you may be the world,” was written by health and hospital advocate, Josephine Billings. The impact of our behaviours, words, attitudes, choices, etc. are very significant to the individuals we meet every day, but those impacts are not always readily visible, because we rarely ask or reflect.

How we show up in the world is our personal choice. This choice is based on our own level of recognition of our own personal ability to make that very choice. Many of us often live by accident. The way we live is often simply a result of each situation and how we are feeling that day. We do not always realize that we have power to control how we live, based on our personal choices, and that these choices may be planned, managed, and executed with proactive behaviours and wisdom. This very choice to live on purpose, with power over our choices and behaviours is what personal leadership is about. It is also the very essence of authenticity.

When we behave with personal leadership, choosing how we show up in the world and doing this in an authentic way, it affects all aspects of our lives. Who, then, is an authentic person and how do we become one?

Peter Block, author of Flawless Consulting, defines authenticity as “putting into words what you are experiencing as you work,” Block further suggests that being authentic in consulting is “the most powerful thing you can do to have the leverage you are looking for and to build client commitment.” (Block, 1981, p. 37) In a class discussion Block clarified “putting into words what we are feeling in the moment,” by stating that “it can be confused with being open and honest…which is putting our projections or judgments on someone.”
Block’s words challenge us to stay objective and to remove ego from interactions. Ego has been most popularly defined as that aspect of conceit that suggests that the world’s events and people’s actions centre around us. This part of ourselves that takes others’ actions, words, and judgments personally is the type of ego being discussed. Not the healthier aspect of ego, self-confidence, which some also refer to as ego. Therefore, Block is dares us to remove the aspect of ego that creates personal investment in how people respond to us, out of the picture. By removing this personal investment, we are able to also begin to remove projections and judgments from interactions.
Removing personal projections and judgments from interactions is not an easy task. However, the Arbinger Institute’s book, Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box, challenges us to do just that. It is a book that is truly an experience, the profound qualities of this book come from our own personal introspection as we not only read, but practice the concepts of the book. While this book is difficult to explain, it definitely has a strong connection to authenticity.

Leadership and Self Deception challenges us to really look at the motives and feelings that lie at the heart of behaviours and judgments. It suggests that when we sit in judgment of a person or an action, we have stepped into “the box.” In the box we see everyone else as the problem. This box is one that blinds us to our own short-comings, allows us to justify our own poor behaviours, and perpetuates our behaviours that are most difficult to examine and adjust. These are the behaviours that may seem inappropriate when looked at in isolation, yet we will often justify as appropriate based on our perceptions of others’ behaviours. This calls to mind familiar phrases of “he made me,” “If she hadn’t done ___, I wouldn’t have done ___.” In other words, we often find ourselves acting in certain ways that we feel are justified, because of someone else.

The attached video displays just how our own blind spots can keep us from seeing how we affect our world, and are often unable to see how we create our own problems. While the video is about a scientific example, it is the nudge used within the book to draw people to look at their own behaviours.

Leadership and Self-Deception essentially calls us on this dysfunctional behaviour and requires us to revisit our justifications. No one can make us do anything, so we are deceiving ourselves when we say they are. This reminder brings us to a reminder of what it is to be authentic. The book explores a way of being that steps past negative relationships, ineffective communication, and poor behavioural patterns. These explorations challenge us to look at the world from a very different paradigm, if we really wants to create a change in life and relationships.

The book also requires us reader to step away from any sort of judgment. In order to stay out of the box, we must look at the intent of both our actions and our words. We are asked to be courageous enough to ask: why am I saying this? Why am I doing this? If we determine that our true intent is to manipulate, or to try to change another’s behaviour, we realize we have re-entered the box. There is an absolutely direct connection between the advice of staying out of the box and being authentic.

There is more to the authentic journey, however. Leadership and Self-Deception and Peter Block require us to have the courage to speak from our truth; our beliefs and values. These are absolutely essential to authenticity. However, what if we do not have a true sense of direction, purpose, or values?
Bill George’s book, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value really provides a road map for those who are trying to determine what their authenticity is. George suggests that there are 5 dimensions of authenticity: purpose, values, relationships, self-discipline, and heart. These dimensions truly bring us to the recognition that while intentions may be pure and words may be without judgment, a lack of understanding of these qualities of authenticity will simply create an authentic person who has no direction. Without direction, at some point or another, we will also falter in our desire to live authentically. This brings us back to the opening paragraphs and the statement that many people live life by accident. Authentic Leadership challenges the reader to live life on purpose.

To be truly authentic, then, is not just a way of interacting, perceiving others, or building relationships. Authenticity also requires a sense of who we are and what we want from our lives. It can be a test of our values. Are they words on a list, that we say are important, or do we live them? What sort of relationships do we have, and how do we foster them? Are we consistent in our behaviours? Do we have the self-discipline to walk our talk? Do we have compassion and empathy? Are we able to show these and to reserve our judgment?

For me, the desire to live authentically is a constant battle of behaviours, perceptions and attitudes. I have an understanding of the word, and I have qualities of authenticity from George. Recently I have begun to explore Kevin Cashman's Leading from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life. In this book, Cashman explores what he describes as 7 pathways to developing leadership. I believe it will be a book that will help show the way. I have not had the opportunity to really digest and begin to try his precepts.

However, one book and its principles, which currently helps me to explore living with authenticity is Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Practicing the habits is a way for me to be more purposeful in how I live and embrace authenticity. Quite frankly, it helps me bring Bill George’s 5 dimensions to life.

For instance, I have developed my own personal mission statement as a part of Habit 2 of the 7 Habits. This mission is a declaration of my purpose and values. It is my personal code of conduct, or terms of reference. By knowing what I stand for, who I want to be, and how I want to live, I am able to be stand firm in my values and beliefs. When there are challenges in life, I can refer to my own mission and values as a checkpoint for the difficult decisions and situations. If I am unsure as to a course of action, they allow me to remember who I am and what I want and from there the decision becomes clearer. This ability to use them as a guide post for my actions is also the practice of Habit 3. Covey quotes playwright Johann Goethe in his various writing on Habit 3: “Things that matter most, should never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”

The living of my purpose and values is only part of my quest for authenticity. These actions help me determine how I want to show up in the world. The 7 Habits also helps me to establish how I want to be in the world. When I practice Habit 1, for instance, I am reminded that I have a choice in how I will respond. I also am reminded that the only thing I really can change is myself. No one can “make” me mad, happy, angry, sad. These are my responses, that I choose. It is in these understandings of my ability to choose my responses and actions that I recognize that I have the power to also remove my judgment from my responses to people’s behaviours. I can return to Block’s words and choose authentic responses.

My desire to live authentically is also supported by my continuous quest to think abundantly and to seek to understand. These two objectives are the underlying foundation of Habits 4 and 5. In thinking abundantly, or thinking win-win, I can be generous in my actions and responses to others. I do not need to have people agree with me in order to be validated. An abundant mindset allows me to recognize that there are many points of view. Seeking to understand continues to support my authentic journey, as it is in truly being willing to understand another that I am able to let go of my personal investment in needing others to agree with me.

When I have my mission and values to guide me, my priorities in order, a willingness to value others’ views and a recognition that I am not less of a person if someone disagrees, I am able to move to really living authentically. I am able to honour both my own needs and the needs of others, to live and communicate with synergy and balance, the essence of Habits 6 and 7.

Bill George uses a whole chapter to discuss the need to lead a balanced life in Authentic Leadership. I believe that recognizing our needs to maintain health and wellness and to live a balanced life are a part of authenticity. For one thing, when we are unhealthy and stressed, it is more difficult to be authentic. In times of stress it is hard to stay objective and remove judgment. These abilities are easiest to maintain and draw upon when we are balanced and focussed. It is also harder to uphold our values and purpose when we feel drained and unsteady. While living our values and mission in difficult times is a wonderful sign of authenticity, we can also support our desire to be authentic by taking care of ourselves and living with balance.

To live authentically is a very big challenge. It is a life-long process that one must continually fine-tune and examine. In my quest to be authentic, I find support through the words of Block, the Arbinger Institute and Bill George, just to name a few. I also find guidance for my behaviours, as I determine how to make my desire to be authentic a reality, from Covey and others.
Being that I am human, I am a work in progress. I am an expert at nothing, but a scholar of many. I am not always as authentic as I’d like to be. It is a daily process of learning and self-reflection. It requires an honesty about oneself that is sometimes absolutely painful. It can be embarrassing and disheartening. However, since I am human, I also have that wonderful gift of hope. Hope that tomorrow, or next time I’ll do it better, be better and succeed. It is that hope that allows me to accept the challenge of living authentically.

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