#117 Authenticity and Showmanship

I received an email yesterday from a deployed Company Commander who asked the following question in reference to Post #106 "The Three of You":

"My only question that may cause more writing is, what happens when one of the three of "You" dominates? How do you balance or should you balance? Sometimes leadership involves acting like you know what you are doing, even when you don't have clue. I do believe some of this acting is for the benefit of the group you are leading. Leadership is often times "showmanship" until you can catch up on the learning curve."

And then this morning I received a comment on #116 from JD that caught my eye as well. I'll include the exchange here as well.

I had written:

"I think one of the interesting parts of this whole line of discussion has to do with how little of it has anything to do with the Army. Becoming properly oriented and self-aware has become the study of my entire life - not just my time in the Army. I think this is a critical area for leader development - recognizing that who you are as an Army leader will have a lot more to do with who and what your formative experiences have created in you, and a lot less of what the Army may or may not have taught you. My orientation to the world is derived from the totality of my life, its' successes, failures, joys, sorrows, hurts, losses etc. Those form me, they form the narrative that is me. I then take that narrative and bring it to the Army. I conform the Army value system and ethic into my orientation, not the other way around."

JD replied with this:

Fen..I love what you just wrote!...really nicely written and thought out....mind if I cut and paste it?!....looks to me like "content and curriculum" for teaching and practicing self-awareness. And you are right, it has nothing to do with the Army...but if leaders in the Army know it and practice it, they will be better leaders....and will serve our Soldiers much better."

Last night I was thinking over the showmanship piece with a friend of mine and she asked me what my thoughts were. I told her that I thought that a lot of times this showmanship equaled the public 'You' that I had spoken of in #106. The persona developed to instill confidence in others and live up to the expectations of the organization. The persona that you take on that you think meets the expectations of senior, peers, and subordinates. The person you become once you get immersed into the organizational culture so much that you cannot exactly remember who you are.

My friend didn't necessarily agree that the showmanship portion of a leader equaled a second persona. Her point was that people ultimately follow someone else because they believe strongly in their narrative. They believe in their authenticity. The have faith in their message. Sometimes though, in order to move or motivate people it's necessary to 'go big'. It's not a false representation of you, it's just giving them the parts of your authenticity that they need to hear in a way they need to hear it.

Those things that are truly me have very little to do with my time in the Army. Those formative experiences both inside and outside of the profession are the parts of me that are most true, most real and most authentic. They all have helped create the person I am as a leader.

And that got me thinking about authenticity. It's not a word we often use to describe people, but maybe it ought to be. Have I been an authentic leader? Have you? If we find a way to get Soldiers and leaders to discover and build upon their authentic selves, to draw upon the totality of their lives, to focus on those things that are core components of who they are, we might end up with a lot better leaders and a lot less need for the creation of a second persona designed only for outside consumption. It's a question of people following you, or following a caricature of you. Have you ever thought about that?

As I continue to discover the parts of my authenticity - those things that make me uniquely me, the question of showmanship becomes less and less important. If the truths of my character, motivations, desires, successes, failures, trials and tribulations are something that I no longer fear or try to hide away, then the public 'You' begins to melt away. I do not need that actor as much as I once did. He doesn't serve to enhance my ability to lead. In fact, he detracts from it. He makes my narrative less clear to those who are looking to me for leadership. He hides me from them instead of inspiring them with my authenticity. My true self. Who I am in the dark, alone where no one else can see. That person is the one who moves someone to believe and follow me, not some store-bought creation that I think is what they want. How much of your leadership is influenced by giving people what you think they want?

My commander friend wanted to know how to inspire people or provide them a clear answer when possibly he didn't have one himself. Is there value to acting a part until more information becomes available to advance the mission, or meet an objective? Prior to last night, I would have wholeheartedly said there was. Sometimes you give them an answer that you really don't have and you cover it up with a false-confidence and bravado and hope they do not see through it. If it begins them moving, then that is enough.

This morning however, I'm not so sure. I don't think you have to try to convince anyone of anything that you do not believe yourself. By doing that you end up taking your eye off the mission and placing it on them, worrying that they might find out that you don't know what the correct answer is. I think what must be done is that you have to discover your own authenticity. That is what they are actually investing their faith in anyway. That you know who and what you are and are not hiding that reality from those you lead. That it is OK to say you don't know when you don't, or that you don't have the answer sitting at your fingertips. Or that you are unsure. Those things may be all the case, and the authentic answer may be, "I don't know what the outcome will be right now, but I know that we have to get this done and that together we will do it. Here is what we are going to do right now. As the situation unfolds, we might have to make adjustments and changes, but ultimately we will get to our objective. We will accomplish our mission."

My friend's question about what happens when one part 'dominates' you, is equally important. That's what happens when you start to believe your own bullshit. You start to place more emphasis on keeping the created 'You' alive than you do on seeing the problem at hand. I think a lot of Army leaders fall into that trap and it is certainly one that dictated a large portion of the middle of my career. The further you fall into that trap, the further away you end up from your authentic self.

The question of personal authenticity is actually a critical component in leader development. Will you become a ringmaster in the three-ring circus of your life trying to keep private and personal and outside versions of yourself away from those you lead, or will you take the time do really discover your authenticity and then rest assured that people follow you because they know you are real? Which will dominate you? The creation, or your true self? While it might seem a strange question to some of you right now, I promise that it is not. Sooner or later you will run into yourself somewhere and it will be interesting to see if you are comfortable with that person or have you become a stranger over the years who lost sight of who you really are and why?

Authenticity is the truest sense and understanding of ourselves. We ought to spend most of our time in leader development looking exactly at that. The more we are authentic, the more we seek out and understand and care for our true selves, the more we can set aside the showman and the circus master. He doesn't do anything but confuse those we lead. Ultimately if my Soldiers have faith in my authenticity they will follow me. If they think I am only acting to cover a flaw they will not. The mission - and their lives - may hang in that balance.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.