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As the Nose Grows: Authentic Leadership in the Age of Pinocchios

September 30, 2016 Mark Hannum

Having consciously lived through close to 45 years of elections, I have to ask: is this one any worse than any of the others? Does it seem exceptional? And how might this type of ethical and moral behavior impact our tolerance of such antics outside of the political arena?

To borrow from the Washington Post and their standards for fact-checking political figures (otherwise known as the political Pinocchio test), there are degrees of deception that range from a shading of the facts to outright whoppers. Some might say that little lies—whether lies of omission or putting a spin on a situation that isn’t completely truthful—are just the way it is, especially in business. But what happens when all of these little lies are compounded? How deeply do they undercut authenticity and our ability to show up as candid, authentic leaders in our organization?

Staying True to Your Authentic Self
Leaders don’t generally take on a new role or a project intending to be inauthentic or to deceive others. But oftentimes cultural norms—the unspoken truths unique to our company environment—consume our mind share as we go about our day-to-day business. And, we may lose sight of our authentic self at work each day. As leaders, we must walk a fine line to successfully balance the interests of the organization with communicating openly and candidly with our team.

As I think about some of the glib statements that I’ve heard time and time again, I am more and more convinced that this may be more a part of our day-to-day reality than we realize. Take a moment to think about the one-liners listed below, many of which are now a part of organizational culture:

  • The boss is always right. No questions asked.
  • I tell people only what they need to know and nothing more.
  • That’s our culture. That is how it’s always been.
  • Money is the best motivator for me and my team.

But, the good news is that there are ways to remain authentic and to candidly address common scenarios with your team. Some examples of these are:

  • That project had some bright spots and some real problems.
  • I’m being as open with you as I can be.
  • Samantha had that idea, not me.
  • You didn’t have a great year, but we asked you to do some really difficult things this year.
  • I did see your email and I’m on the fence about what to do—can you help me out a little more?
  • We are thinking about reductions, but we are thinking about six other things to do as well.
  • I did tell Darrin to go ahead with that project, what’s up?

As leaders, we have the amazing (and yet sometimes daunting) task of motivating, inspiring, and creating a vision and mobilizing others around it to create a better future. The more authentic we can be as leaders, the more trust we build—people will want to follow us, work with us and innovate with us.

If your organization were to assess your authenticity and how you show up as a leader, how many Pinocchios would you routinely get? What is one thing that you can start to do differently today to honor authenticity?

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