The greatest way to live with honor in the world is to be What we pretend to be.
Principally because of President Benigno BS Aquino 3rd, and his problematic legacy after five years in office, we have talked a lot lately about “authenticity” in looking at the momentous decision dawning on the nation next year.
Some have raised “authenticity” as the standard to measure the candidates, in addition to the standards that were traditionally raised.
As we go through the list of president wannabes, we can see why people would want each candidate to get real and authentic first, before they bestow on them their support.
Checklist of candidates
Mar Roxas compels the use of the authenticity test on himself, because he has absurdly committed to becoming a clone of President Aquino and adopting wholesale his Tuwid na Daan (straight path) rhetoric and policies.
Grace Poe whetted interest in authenticity because she carved her candidacy around a deceptive story about her origins, and keeps her banner flying around the desperate hope that the Supreme Court will save her.
Vice President Binay excites talk about the real Jojo Binay, because he has burrowed into a hole in the ground to shield himself from the tsunami of allegations hurled at him.
Rody Duterte literally claims authenticity as his badge by mounting an “in your face” presentation of his thoughts, his character, and policy ideas, in words that many mistake for authenticity because they are so offensive.
Miriam Defensor Santiago has become a mystery, because instead of presenting her well-known feisty self, she has retreated to the shadows and social media, waiting, many hope, to unwrap a spirited campaign after the holidays.
Interest in authenticity training
In an article in the January-February issue of the Harvard Business Review this year, professor Herminia Ibarra of INSEAD (“Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires” or European Institute of Business Administration), reported that there has been a dramatic increase of interest in authenticity training among top companies and organizations.
She says that two trends explain the exploding popularity of the concept of authenticity and the fad that it has engendered in the training industry and leadership studies. She wrote:
“First, trust in business leaders fell to an all-time low in 2012, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. Even in 2013, when trust began to climb back up, only 18 percent of people reported that they trusted business leaders to tell the truth, and fewer than half trusted businesses to do the right thing.
“Second, employee engagement is at a nadir. A 2013 Gallup poll found that only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged at work.”
What is true of business is perhaps even more true of politics, where public confidence in leaders has plunged to new lows, as once popular leaders have fallen, and even comedians have been elected to replace some of them.
The word “authentic” used to be reserved for a work of art that is an original, not a copy. When used to describe leadership, of course, it has other meanings—and they can be problematic. And being utterly transparent—disclosing every single thought and feeling—is both unrealistic and risky.
Ibarra warns: “You lose credibility and effectiveness as a leader if you disclose everything you think and feel, especially when you are unproven.”
A leader can also be too egocentric for his or her own good. An example of this is Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady. She grew more and more convinced of the rightness of her ideas and her coercive methods. Eventually, it was her undoing—she was ousted by her own cabinet.
At the Wharton Business School, author and professor Stewart Friedman teaches a course called “Total Leadership.”
Friedman advises students on three key principles to help them raise their effectiveness:
1. Be real – Act with authenticity
2. Be whole – Act with Integrity
3. Be innovative – Act with Creativity
In his book, Total Leadership (Harvard Businmess Press, 2008),
Friedman explained his authenticity principle this way: “Acting with authenticity gives you the strength that comes from doing what you love, drawing on the resources of your whole life, knowing that you are creating value for your self, your family, your business, your world.
“Effective leaders articulate a vision—a compelling image of an
achievable future—that inspires them and the people around them.”
Characteristics of authentic leaders
Writing in Forbes magazine, Kevin Kruse shared many interesting insights on “what is authentic leadership?”
He observed that authenticity has been explored throughout history, from Greek philosophers to Shakespeare.
Different theorists have different slants on the concept, but most agree now that authentic leaders possess certain defining characteristics. Among these:
1. Authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine. Authentic leaders are self-actualized individuals who are aware of their strengths, their limitations, and their emotions. They also show their real selves to their followers. They do not act one way in private and another in public; they don’t hide their mistakes or weaknesses out of fear of looking weak. They also realize that being self-actualized is an endless journey, never complete.
2. Authentic leaders are mission-driven and focused on results. They are able to put the mission and the goals of the organization ahead of their own self-interest. They do the job in pursuit of results, not for their own power, money or ego.
3. Authentic leaders lead with their heart, not just their minds. They are not afraid to show their emotions, their vulnerability and to connect with their employees.
4. Authentic leaders focus on the long-term. They are focused on long-term gains for the nations they lead, and long-term shareholder value in the companies they lead.
A commanding presence, an authentic voice
What we miss most in our contemporary leaders is the commanding presence and authenticity of voice that used to define who should lead this country.
We miss people who did their best when it was tough to be the best, and who did right when heroic duty called.
Suzanne Fields has wryly observed that in contemporary times, “we’ve been inured to the slovenly private lives of public men, and maybe these times require attention to survival at the expense of dignity and decorum. The crucial test for a president is the test of whether the nation’s interests can be preserved and protected.”
A candidate cannot just parachute into Malacañang Palace without proving himself or herself first in the crucible of politics and administration. The office will soon expose the fake they really are.