I've always been troubled by the use of the word "authentic" to describe leaders and even whole organizations or cultures. I've never been quite sure where this unease came from.
One thing that has always struck me is that when people say they want their leaders to be "authentic" do they really mean it? It seems to me that when we say this we don't want leaders to be "who they really are", rather we want them to fulfil some idealized role that reflects our wishes, values, aspirations. We don't want leaders to be true to themselves, we want them to be true to us.
Then I came across this article in the Star about the developer of a new app called Beme. Beme is an app that automatically and maybe randomly, sends short videos of you to your contacts. Like Snapchat these videos have a short shelf life. The idea is that these short, unedited clips express the "real you" in a way that we don't in other social media (think of all those perfect lives published on Facebook) The article makes the point that the author of the app rather carefully curates his own social media image.
So the article poses the question of what is our "authentic" self? Well to tell the truth it doesn't exist. I behave differently with my friends to how I do with my colleagues or my children or with a police officer who might stop me for speeding - or when watching partisan ads produced by political parties I don't agree with.
The simple truth is we all play roles all the time. As the article points out:
"Think about it: you act differently with your mother than you do with your boss, and you follow rules and norms and fashions with which you might not strictly agree. You act nice towards neighbours you hate. You say you’re doing “pretty good” when you feel like crying. It’s the toll you pay, in short, to live in a polite and functional human society."
Now I'm not advocating dishonesty or suggesting we all are living somehow duplicitous lives. I'm not even suggesting we jettison the idea of "authenticity". Just recognize that when we ask our leaders to be "authentic" that we might well be asking the impossible.
Oh and one more thing - I think this approach supports the idea of work life balance. See it's okay for "life" and "work" to be different roles, to tap into different sides of ourselves. I'm not the same person when riding my bike as when sitting at my desk. Never am and never will be.