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21. Is Being Authentic a Bad Idea?

The advice, “be authentic,” is widespread. In particular, there is a wide body of research illustrating the benefits of authentic leadership.

Many, however, have dismissed the idea of authenticity, saying that it’s unrealistic. One argument is that it’s unwise to only be what you want to be. It might not align with what your superiors or customers expect.

Another argument is that it’s unwise to speak your mind at all times. You’d get the unfortunate reputation of being antagonistic.

These critiques are missing the point. Being authentic doesn’t mean you have a license to skip being empathetic and do as you please. It’s a mindset that guides how you influence others.

Authenticity means first being in tune with who you are and what you believe (self-awareness). Then, you are forthcoming about your beliefs and why you believe them (relational transparency). The key is open-mindedness, ensuring that the other party knows that you are genuinely interested in learning more and exploring alternative rationales (balanced processing).

Authenticity shouldn’t lead to people being selfish. It should lead to people having transparent conversations where everyone respects each other’s perspectives.


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