Business executives (and society in general) have a tendency to latch onto words, phrases, and cliché’s that become ‘the word Du jour’ which capture where we ‘are’ as a society of individuals. We fall in love with the word – or the ‘spirit’ of what the word represents – and we just use it over and over and over again.

I actually think these catch phrases are a great way of short-circuiting ‘what we really mean’ when we are talking to folks of like mind. What bugs me though is when a real word starts to be used so frequently, and loosely, that its potency, legitimacy, and true definition are compromised. One such word that frankly is being thrown around in some circles so freely  that I am getting sick of it – and that word is authenticity.

Authenticity is a powerful word – with a powerful meaning – when used for its true definition.

Bill George, the former Chairman and CEO of Medtronic wrote a best selling book released in 2003, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value. This book was one of the first, and certainly the most recognized, books reviewing what an ‘authentic leader’ is and why ‘authenticity’ in life – and in business – is the key to creating and building value in life.

I loved this book. What I loved about it (and what I love about his latest book: True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership) is that Bill George unabashedly calls out that in the world there are ‘takers and givers.’ He states that authentic people – and authentic leaders – are never the takers; they are the givers, the value creators, the empowering forces, the supporters of others. They are the ones that often stand alone against the tide of greed, power, coffer stuffing, and career ambition run amuck. They are the ones committed to goodness, a sense of purpose, making a difference in the world, to their ‘true north.’ They are the  ones that know, and truly see, who they are each morning when they look in the mirror – and they stay true to that person, not to whom they may think they are ‘supposed to be’. They sleep well at night.

Candidly, this concept of being genuine and true – and living a life (and running a business) with character and integrity as the bedrock foundation is not new to me. I am blessed to have two of the best role models on the planet as my mother and father – Joe and Gretta Kaufman

I have also had the fortune of working for and with many authentic leaders; Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard to name only two who most folks will recognize. They walked the talk. They were not phony nor did they put on airs. They were the same 24 x 7, with the President of the United States or the mail clerk. Yes, they built a great company; however, they were also statesman, community leaders – value-driven individuals in life, community, business and family.

There is nothing more life-changing than to be in the presence of a person so authentically themselves, so in tune with ‘who they are,’ so comfortable in their own skin, that the steel rod running up their back provides the fortitude for them to lead, inspire – and transform those around them – simply by following ‘their true north.’ 

That is gold.

That instills power in others.

You know what I am talking about….surely you have met those individuals whose substance is real, pure, and non-negotiable. They share their vulnerabilities and fears along side their strengths. Their values become only stronger and more visible when put under bright lights, scrutiny and pressure. They are comfortable in weaving all parts of their lives together in an integrated way – family, church, community service, and business. They are not a persona of what they want you to see – what you see is really what you get. Really.

I am not going to rehash the ‘road to authenticity’ or to ‘authentic leadership’ – read Bill George’s books or a few of the other books I have recommended on my blog.

What I will suggest to those of us, who aspire to lead – not to mention aspire for true happiness within our hearts of hearts – is the first step in taking an ‘authenticity test’:

We can only begin to be ‘authentic’ when we know who we really are. So, take a look in the mirror. Are we the same person in the dark as we are in the light?  Are we ‘true to ourselves’? I do not mean the ‘self’ we think we are – or the ‘self’ we want others to think we are…..I mean the ‘self’ we really are. Do we have the courage to be that person – regardless of what we think the world/society/the Board of Directors, etc. expect us to be or how they expect us to behave?

That is the first step. Getting to know who we are – embracing who we are – and living who we are ‘out loud’.

So, as I see it, authenticity is not a ‘buzz word’ to be trivialized. It is the strength behind leaders who leave legacies built from their ‘true self’ – not who they think they ‘should be’ or are supposed to be by someone else’s standards or rules. No, the ‘true self’… grown and embraced through the experiences, trials, and tribulations of life. The ones whose reputations for honesty, integrity, compassion, and holistic attitudes toward leadership stand the test of time. Folks like: Dave Packard, Bill Hewlett, Joe and Ben Kaufman, and Gretta D. Kaufman – to name only a few with whom I have worked, lived, and grown to respect over time.

Authenticity…. is the ‘real deal.’