The Art of Authenticity: A book review by Bob Morris

Art of AuthentcityThe Art of Authenticity: Tools to Become an Authentic Leader and Your Best Self
Karissa Thacker
John Wiley & Sons (March 2016)

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is more Youer than you.” Theodor Seuss Geisel

With all due respect to Karissa Thacker, I remain unconvinced that there is – or could be — an “art” of authenticity but I do believe there is an art of authentication as when experts determine without doubt that a newly discovered painting is an authentic Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. Thacker provides an abundance of information, insights, and counsel about authentic leadership, a subject about which Warren Bennis and Bill George (among others) also have a great deal of value to share.

She observes, “The essence of authenticity is being yourself fully. It requires courage. Being an authentic leader is not just about making the right ethical decisions when the heat is on. It is primarily about doing the work every day to bring your best self forward into the world so that you are in shape when the heat is on and the pressure is high. Being authentic is just like being in shape physically. It is a daily decision and there is no substitute for doing the work. This book serves as a guidebook for those who want to do the work.”

Actually, there is some work that authentic people would much rather not do but, yes, they do it because they are true to their values and live them every moment, naturally. They roll up their sleeves and do whatever must be done as well as they can.

I agree with Thacker: “Far from letting it all hang out and just being yourself [for better or worse], the notion of being authentic that is becoming clearer consists of at least four interrelated [I see them as interdependent] variables” ‘selves’ awareness, unbiased processing, appropriate transparency, and concordance between [and among] behavior and values. Each of these ideas is fully explained in this book, and exercises are presented [“The Workouts” section at the end of chapters] to help you develop each of the four skills that comprise authenticity in psychological terms. Each of the four skills requires a depth of understanding about the environment, or as we psychologists like to say, context.”

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Thacker’s coverage:

o Authenticity (Pages 3-17)
o Contribution (18-32)
o Truthfulness (33-47)
o Making choices about lying (35-40)
o Research on lying (40-44)
o Practicing authenticity and truthfulness (44-46)
o Leadership (51-69)
o Charisma and behavior (52-58)
o Bill George (66-67)
o Self-awareness (70-84)
o Balanced processing (85-101)
o Relational transparency (102-117)
o Internalized moral perspective (118-132)
o Jonathan Haidt (127-129 and 131-132)
o Choice (135-138)
o Organizational culture (149-165)
o Pursuit of truth (182-199)

Long ago, Henry David Thoreau suggested that many (if not most) of the people he knew “lead lives of quiet desperation.” I think that is true of many people today. The world we live in now seems to become more volatile, uncertain, complicated, and ambiguous each day. What to do? The head note by “Dr. Seuss” is probably what Oscar Wilde had in mind when suggesting, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Indeed, Karissa Thacker concludes with these thoughts: “Being an authentic leader is about determining who you are in your own way and making the contributions only you can make. The process does involve tough choices, hard work, and struggler. Remember to have fun, though, and savor those virtue buzzes along the way.”

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