In the Map of the Social Age, ‘Authenticity’ is special location. It’s special because it’s hard to find. Authenticity is almost intangible, and yet easy to spot when it’s missing. It gives you nothing in return, and yet without it you have nothing. Authenticity generates power for Social Leaders and erodes it in organisations that lack it. It can’t bought, but can be earned. And the best thing is, by getting things wrong, you may well be earning it right.
The birth of the Social Age saw shifts away from formal hierarchies of power, towards a more reputation based economy. What you did became worth more than what you said you would do, because suddenly the communities around us had the almost synchronous ability to organise and comment. Within this democratisation of communication and creativity, sole voices were amplified, whilst the ability of organisations to own the conversation through volume alone was diminished. All voices became more equal, and the ones with greater authenticity became more listened to.
Authenticity is not about glamour or worth, it’s not about media or message: it’s about the platform from which the story is told and the person telling it.
My bank can tell me that they care, but i recognise that what we have is a transactional relationship. There is little that can be truly authentic in this. It’s a relationship in which they hold both power and authority and exert it in a way that leaves me little recourse, because they control the channels of communication too. Or at least they did until Twitter came along, and i was able to claim a conversation on my terms.
Authenticity is more than just words: it’s actions. It’s more than intent: it’s experience.
Within the Social Leadership frame, authenticity is important because it’s a factor in reputation, and reputation leads directly to Social Authority, that form of authority which is granted by the community itself. By acting with integrity, by being authentic in our action, by being humble in how we work and learn, we can be granted reputation and, hence, gain Social Authority.
I read somewhere a simple guide to how good a particular foodstuff is for you is to consider how much it’s been processed: raw fruit is good, tinned fruit is ok. Fruit made into cake is less good. It’s probably something like that when it comes to authenticity: the less things are processed, the more authentic they feel. So wrapping the message up in a glossy corporate story is probably less tasty than a handwritten thank you note. Things from the heart don’t come overproduced.
One space where actions speak louder than words is when we are learning, when we get things wrong. The humble leader is one who narrates her or his actions, shares learning and the process they used to get there. Warts and all. This willingness to share the workings of the story, rather than just the polished story itself, is of great value and contributes to ones reparation as an authentic leader. Recognising that we need rehearsal spaces as well as just performance ones.
It’s not that organisations can’t act authentically, just that ‘authenticity’ itself is more likely to be rooted in individuals, not teams or organisations. Indeed, that’s the very reason why social authority subverts formal hierarchy so effectively.
We need to understand authenticity in order to earn it: because it’s about every aspect of how we operate. And it’s within our control to act in ways that are truly authentic.