It’s official: we live in a post-truth era.
With the proliferation of fake news, false claims, overblown rhetoric, and non-stop information coming from multiple, unknown, and layered sources, it’s no wonder voters have trouble discerning fact from fiction.
And yet, voters say they want authentic political leaders. Moreover, leadership research suggests authenticity is a powerful tool for decision-making and engaging effectively with others. The question is: what does authenticity in a post-truth world really mean, and is it even possible for public servants to be their authentic selves in the current environment?
The word “authenticity” originated from Greek narrative and lore with a root meaning of “being true to oneself.” Over the past 80 years, the definition of authenticity has expanded to encompass philosophical (purpose) and psychological (identity) dimensions.
Now, we understand authenticity less as a static state of being (“you either got it or you don’t”) and more as an ongoing practice of self-exploration, reflection and, importantly, acting in accordance with these beliefs and identities. Part of what makes authentic leaders effective is the foundation of trust they cultivate within themselves and, thus, with others. This trust is built through honest intent and integrity.
When we know who we are and emulate it consistently through how we act and what we say, those around us can more reliably distill the genuine from the fake.
If you’re working with a candidate whose feeling like he or she is trying to find themselves in this challenging environment, ask them to spend some time – just ten minutes a day – reflecting on these questions to cultivate authenticity:
- Self-awareness (who am I): What inspired me to pursue a life of public office? What are my guiding values – and how come? What are my strengths? What genuinely interests and excites me? What experiences shaped who I am today? What motivates me to lead my community?
- Self-management (how am I): What sets me off? What is my default response when triggered? What do I need to be aware of when stressed? What will I do, in the moment, when stressed?
- Self-care (what I need): What do I need? What fulfills me? What do I commit to do daily that brings me balance?
To be authentic takes courage, vulnerability, and an ongoing commitment to learning and resiliency. Especially in a time when it can be hard to navigate the lines between real and fake, cultivating authenticity by asking ourselves powerful questions is critical to being effective leaders and political actors. Because no matter what kind of information and misinformation is swirling, the most important thing is to know and trust in yourself.
Frieda K. Edgette is principal of Novos Consulting, a civic-minded organizational strategy and coaching consultancy.