One of the true voids in every strata of life now, from personal to corporate to national to global, is that of authenticity from the inside out. We live in a society that has been jaded and marred by the realizations and revelations that the people they’ve admired, looked up to, followed, and thought they knew were frauds.

That has destroyed trust and undermined respect for any kind of authority – not abusive, misused and self-seeking tyranny, which is often the only manifestation we currently see in almost every governing structure, from personal to corporate to national to global – necessary to ensure order and progress. And that has led to the deepening chaos and retrograde that we see unfolding today.

I read an excerpt from “Sweetness,” Jeff Pearlman’s new book about Walter Payton, the Chicago Bears’ legendary running back from the mid-1970’s to the late 1980’s, in Sports Illustrated yesterday. And although the excerpt is being criticized for its portrayal of an inner man who was quite different from the outer man, it underscored this point about how important that our inside (who we are) matches our outside (what we do and say), because if those are not in sync, eventually the cracks will appear and we will be unmasked as frauds, pretenders, and wannebes. And no matter how much good we may have effected as a result of our superficial external coating, it will all be scrutinized, dismantled, dismissed, and abandoned, with nothing but the ugly truth of who we really were left as our legacies. 

Authenticity starts early in life. Its foundation is a moral integrity that is absolute – right or wrong, no matter what – instead of relative – right or wrong depends on the situation – and that we do not allow to be compromised nor compromise with. This is the foundation our parents have an important part in laying and we have an important part in building. We choose early on whether to build it or try to get around it by compromising it.

I don’t claim to know all the factors that go into which way we choose. I know that personality and temperament play a part. I know that experience plays a part. I know that what’s most important to us plays a part. But early on, we choose to try to stand on our principles – and suffer the consequences each time we don’t, and the negativity of that makes it less and less appealing – or compromise them.

Compromise is where the inner and outer person begin to part ways and become two separate entities instead of a single whole. The road to living a compromised life starts with seemingly little – although, in fact, they are never little – things. Cheating at a game or on a test. Lying to parents or teachers or ourselves. Stealing something from someone else.

Although getting caught or not getting caught by someone else can certainly encourage us or deter us from pursuing the road to a compromised life – it seemed to me as a kid that I seldom got away with anything without getting caught, and for that I’m now thankful – it seems to me that the strongest determinant is one of conscience. Conscience is what tells us that even if we didn’t get caught it was in conflict with our moral integrity and that dissonance was intolerable so we told on ourselves, made the situation right, and determined not to do that again, and if we did, we repeated the steps of getting rid of the internal conflict by admission, correction, and determination.

If our inner person (conscience) is not authentic, then these wrong acts, because no one else caught them, will not bother us and demand that we admit them and correct them. Instead, exactly because no one else caught them and there were seemingly no consequences – except to our character, which often goes undetected for many years because we become extremely adept at hiding the defects  – they embolden us to make these compromises habitual until they become who we are on the inside. We become liars.

And because we live in a society that mirrors this same behavior, giving lip service to a watered-down and surface version of law and order, but being utterly corrupt and okay with that corruption underneath, we become liars among liars, until there is virtually no truth, no authenticity, no honesty in any of our systems and the people who lead those systems.

I could write a book alone on the number of people I’ve worked with who were in leadership positions who lacked authenticity. I can hold up one finger on one hand for one man who was authentic inside and outside. He stands all by himself as someone I can say I truly respected and truly trusted and who was the best leader I ever worked with.

So to be a quintessential leader, you must be authentic. Who you are must match what you say and do. Your life, if opened up and dissected for all the world, must match the words you’ve spoken and the actions you have both taken and modeled, in every aspect of life. Anything less means moral compromise and moral compromise means failure.

Comments
  1. […] means aligning actions with beliefs – authenticity. A quintessential leader’s actions are always in sync with his or her values, standards and […]

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  2. […] norm instead of the exception. While sincerity is very closely aligned with honesty, integrity, and authenticity, it is still a distinct component from these other quintessential leadership […]

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  3. […] says, in essence, people with moral integrity, who are honest, who are authentic, who are genuine keep their promises and keep their word, no matter what and they don’t change the terms or […]

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