I watch the History Channel.
Yes, those droll, stretched-out-like-taffy documentaries that strain to make a whole hour of drama out of four faded photographs. But I have to confess that most of what I watch on that channel — my oblique approach to scholarly inquiry – is Pawn Stars, the eccentric, quirky family and friends that run a Las Vegas pawn shop.
People bring in all manner of stuff – a rifle supposedly used by General Custer, a guitar picked by Neil Young, a crude coin perhaps pinched by some President, a deck of cards shuffled by Benny Binion himself. As well as some unredeemable junk, flotsam from the attics of daily life.
However, apart from the overall condition of any item or its value as a curiosity or keepsake, what really drives the premium price is whether there is evidence of provenance – a letter, a certificate, photograph, a serial number, a carved set of initials or verifiable autograph that proves it is authentic.
Just like any antique or collectible, we value authenticity in our lives for the same reasons – it gives us assurance we are not getting fooled, that what we are getting comes from someplace or someone real, that the story is true, that the value will hold up over time.
Authenticity is the new currency of leadership
Traditional organizational authority has all but evaporated. We now have nearly two generations of workers who have grown up accessing their own information, forming their own sense of community and coalitions, and freely (at times defiantly) exercising market power.
What always constituted the power stance of a corporation – the ability to aggregate capital, people, ideas and brand – is also being disrupted if not substituted. Social media has flooded every area of life and commerce, making it nearly impossible for any person to hide behind pretense or contradiction. We are only a click away from getting what we want if someone doesn’t “deliver” – and that includes the truth (or at least what we think is the truth). Control has shifted, as have power and influence.
We are in an era where employees, customers and influencers are putting a premium on our ability to connect on a deeper level, to engage in conversation, to have passions and purpose that resonate more broadly than a narrow set of interests. Social media alone has laid bare any chance of doing one thing and saying another.
To fend off the call for authenticity is to discount an essential of leadership in a very changed world. People want to know you; if you let them in, you create true followers.
Authenticity is not some soft-boiled egg. It’s tough stuff. It means having courage know yourself and be yourself in every circumstance. It takes guts to hang yourself out there and be vulnerable, knowing there can be a short-term price of that. It is being consistent under pressure, under scrutiny. It means having integrity (wholeness) between our words and action, between our values and decisions.
It means you’re the real article.
People will buy that kind of leadership.