To recast a widely-quoted observation about sincerity: “The secret of success is authenticity. Once you can fake it you’ve got it made.”
Leaders’ authenticity helps us determine whether we want to follow them, which means it is fundamental to their ability to influence others.
But for it to be meaningful it must be, well, authentic. That means that any attempt to fake it or follow a script automatically destroys its value.
When leaders are authentic, what they show on the outside matches what is on the inside. Their thoughts, feelings, and values are respectfully revealed as circumstances allow.
For instance, effective leaders are likely to demonstrate in their daily actions (“outside) a belief (“inside”) in the capacity of all students to learn at higher levels and in the ability of all teachers to successfully teach them given proper support. They also display in their demeanor and words a genuine sense of hopefulness about the future and an infectious enthusiasm for their work.
Because leaders’ authenticity is often communicated nonverbally, it is sensed intuitively. Physician Alex Lickerman describes the process of intuitive knowing this way in a blog post titled “Truth and body language“:
“We all give ourselves away every minute of every day. That is, we broadcast our true intentions, feelings, and even thoughts without knowing it through our body language, tone, and facial expression. This happens whether those intentions, feelings, and thoughts match what we express through language or not. Thus, poker players compromise their bluffs, public speakers their performance anxiety, and friends and lovers their true feelings.”
While authenticity cannot be faked, it can be cultivated when leaders:
• Regularly seek clarity regarding their beliefs and values through writing and in dialogue with trusted colleagues,
• Seek opportunities for even brief periods of solitude to listen to “the small, still voice within,”
• Speak their truths in ways that demonstrate civility and compassion, and
• Frequently reflect on the extent to which their daily actions are aligned with their values and beliefs, including with the school community as a whole.
What are additional ways in which leaders can cultivate and demonstrate their authenticity?