If you assembled all of the people you know, together in one room, would they describe the same person?
Authenticity isn’t about being perfect, but it has everything to do with integrity and reliability. Living an authentic life is paramount to maintaing your credibility as a leader and leaving a lasting impact on others. We trust and admire those who live authentic lives. Leaders are people who live by a set of core values regardless of the circumstances, and regardless who is around.
We can’t follow someone who is hypocritical or a charlatan.
Authenticity is about who you say you are, who people say you are, and who you really are. Tell me what you truly value, not what you say you value, or pretend you value, and I’ll tell you what kind of person you will become.
Authenticity is the glue that holds leadership together. Without authenticity a leader falls apart. Nothing will weaken your impact more, or destroy your accomplishments faster than a breach of trust or a lapse in your integrity.
Be quick to correct a lapse in authenticity. Do not assume others didn’t notice. Don’t think you can cover it up. You aren’t correcting it for them anyway, you are correcting it for yourself.
A friend of mine graduated from the Naval Academy, where authenticity is ingrained into each and every graduate. We went out to eat with some friends once and he was given the incorrect change. He was calculating the error as we were leaving the restaurant. He told us he had to go back in and fix the error. A buddy of ours pointed out that the error was in his favor. He was given too much money back! He replied, “I know! I have to get back in there.” The overpayment was for thirty cents, but he explained that someone at some point was going to have to account for that thirty cents and that doing the right thing, every time, is without equal.
A person with integrity doesn’t do the right once in awhile, not most of the time, and not just when others see it. The authentic leader does the right thing every single time. Sure, he will make mistakes, but once he knows he has, he will immediately move to correct it.
During my college football practices the team had to run warm-up laps around the field. While running those laps a few of the guys would round off the corners of the field. They didn’t go all the way around the corner, and shaved off a few feet and some time and energy. They didn’t stay outside the white line like we were told. It was easier to round the corner off.
Well, our line coach would yell. “Hey! You cheat on these laps and you’ll cheat on your wife! You cheat on these laps and you’ll cheat your whole life.” It had a nice rhyme and by midway through camp we’d all repeat it once he started and no one ever rounded a corner again.
I still remember that lesson today. There is a lot of truth to it. To cheat in life you have to start somewhere. I’m pretty certain that the guy with a gun robbing a bank probably started smaller, and this isn’t his first time. Did he take a nickel off his brother’s dresser when he was little? Did he steal a paperclip from a teacher’s desk growing up? Graduate to taking classmates’ lunch money? It had to start somewhere!
You aren’t born with integrity. Sure we’re innocent enough when we are little. Integrity, trustworthiness, and loyalty are qualities you build upon your entire life. They’re like bank accounts. Every time you keep your word, and do the right thing you make a deposit. When you lie and cheat, well… you make withdraws from your authenticity and you put yourself at risk to become potentially bankrupt in authenticity. Work at being authentic.
Leaders don’t just look the part; they live it.