What You Meant to Say: A Model of Authenticity Everyone Can Relate To
Perhaps the best way to think about authenticity, is an example we can all relate to. Like this:
Imagine one of those times where, after an important conversation, you think of what you really wanted to say instead of what you actually said.
That realisation is an expression of your authentic self, or in other words, what you really think and feel once your brain has had time to process the information you wish you’d responded to differently in the heat of the moment.
Authenticity expresses a measured, objective view. It doesn’t completely invalidate what you actually said in the heat of the moment, but it helps you realise where you stand on an issue, and the next time you discuss it, it will enable you to express yourself more clearly and authentically.
That doesn’t mean we would be more authentic if we present our opinions logically and dispassionately like Mr. Spock from Star Trek. There’s more to it than that, a whole process that also draws upon your values, your unique personality, and your own personal style of communicating confidently and comfortably.
A Model of Authenticity?
We’ve identified the core elements of this process within our own AGL Authenticity Model. It breaks down into three distinct elements that work together to help people say what they mean and mean what they say.
Authenticity Level 1: Understanding Ourselves
It’s important to start from a point of self-reflection, to work out what you really think. It’s easy to allow knee-jerk responses, or prevailing opinions to cloud your judgement on where you stand on an issue, so it’s important to apply some critical thinking to your own position.
This is your personal narrative — narrative is another overused and sometimes opaque word (like authenticity) so to be clear, your personal narrative is how you got to where you are now. It’s expressed through your professional values and your personal beliefs, recognising your strengths, weaknesses, areas where you excel and areas you need to improve.
Your personal narrative is a fundamental journey of self-discovery, that marks the difference between confidence — knowing with certainty what you are capable of and stand for — and bravado, which is putting a brave front over insecurity and uncertainty.
Authenticity Level 2: Expressing Ourselves
Having a clear grasp of what we think sets-up the next level of authenticity, which is being able to express ourselves honestly and effectively. This means learning how to manage your physical state. Fortunately, with level 1 under your belt, your physical state is more relaxed.
- You need to believe what you are saying (if you don’t buy it, no-one will)
- Keep it short focus on the outcome you want
- Make your message relatable and human by putting your own life experience and personal stories into it
- Focus on your physical delivery (tone, pace and expression). This isn’t always easy, but if you know what you want to say and how you feel about it, your brain can do a better job of helping you focus on your physical state because it’s not working so hard on putting the right words into your mouth.
We all face challenges when public speaking (coaching can transform that) however, it’s not about winning an Oscar, it’s about being natural and sincere.
We’ve all seen politicians appearing stiff and evasive, with fake smiles. We’ve all worked with people who read Powerpoint presentations to the audience, in a flat monotone, and bore everyone to death. We have all met leaders who recite their press briefing notes, and can’t go off script, often leaving them exposed an vulnerable to an interviewer on the news. If you have a clear personal narrative, communicate from a point of certainty and integrity, and understand what you want to say, these common problems disappear.
Authenticity Level 3: Connecting with Others
This element of authenticity is not a matter of having a big personality and being life and soul of the meeting room. It’s about building trust with people. Trust comes from authentic communication, frequent contact with people, and a breadth of personal disclosure where you can relate your personal values to your professional goals. Put simply, if you acknowledge the things you admire and respect in your personal experience, other people will understand you better.
In many respects, like expressing ourselves, connecting with others is also about preparation. You will encounter different personalities, all of which need a slightly different approach.
Some people want to meet informally and talk off the record, others want access to evidence and information, some will want concrete, practical plans and others want big picture visions, with inspiring metaphors. Understanding your audience, then trying to adapt your approach to engage them to make your message land more effectively, is not telling it how it is, it’s being authentic.
Authenticity is a Personal Journey
There is a role for coaching in developing authentic leadership communications, however a lot of the work is on you. You need to be thoughtful, apply some critical thinking to problems, be reflective and work on your presentation skills.
When you are unrehearsed, shooting from the lip and talking off-the-cuff, that isn’t authenticity, it’s being badly prepared. Rehearsing what you want to say helps you hone the message, and improves it. Editing your words back to keep the message short and sharp, helps your message land. Working on your breathing, and feeling comfortable when talking about a subject projects confidence and wins support.
Authenticity, is a personal journey where you recognise that humans are complex creatures, with complex emotions and behaviours. Authentic leaders check their own state of mind, aware we are all subject to social privilege, unconscious biases and the pressure of peer opinions.
Being authentic means acknowledging that we can all be caught up in trends and fads that divert us from clear, constructive progress. If you are humble in the face of that complexity, and realise you need to be mindful of it, you can become a more authentic version of yourself.