Be yourself! This is the advice that mothers, fathers, grandparents and friends give when we have a job interview, a serious conversation with someone who imposes on us, or a public presentation. It is the most widespread practical advice among people who love us at a decisive moment: be yourself.
Although some academics suggest that ‘being yourself’ is a bad advice, as it can diminish the self-regulatory factors that allow us to live in society with a certain harmony, and prevent us from automatically saying what we think, as this would have dire consequences, the academic literature on the authenticity of people in organisations is a subject of growing attention and with remarkable individual and organisational benefits.
Strangers and outsiders: the aligned professional
Authenticity is a subjective experience of alignment between the sense of self, and external expressions. In other words, it is the living expression of what we are. Authenticity is the opposite of alienation, feeling alienated from oneself. Alienation was one of the great concepts developed by social sciences at the height of the industrial revolution. Social scientists perceived how men, women, boys and girls who began to work in factories felt alienation, they were not themselves. There is a need for environments that instead of promoting alienation (feeling alienated from oneself) encourage alignment (being in line or attuned to oneself).
The million-dollar question would be: How many 21st century employees still feel alienated in their organisations?
Among the interesting concepts that have emerged recently regarding authenticity in organisations, this article will present three: authentic functionality, authentic leadership, and authentic personality. For more details on other concepts related to authenticity in organisations, read this article.
Functionalism, personality and true leadership
True functionalism is the barrier-free performance of our own selves in all the daily tasks we undertake, and it is valid for everyone. This dynamic process involves four components:
- Awareness, which is the ability to increase confidence in one’s own motives, feelings and desires.
- Fair processing, which is the absence of interpretative distortions in front of others (such as being on the defensive).
- Behaviour in accordance with one’s values and preferences.
- Genuine personal relationships with acquaintances and strangers.
We all have the capacity to increase our true functionalism by having the will to increase our awareness, by making an effort to behave according to our values, and by generating quality relationships, without prejudice or distortion.
Authentic leadership is the degree to which the leader of an organisation adopts his or her true self. It’s also comprised of four elements:
- Self-knowledge (weaknesses and strengths).
- Transparency (sharing my most genuine self with others).
- Balanced processing (analysing all relevant data when making a decision)
- Moral interiorisation (letting oneself be guided by internal morality).
Leaders, or bad leaders, are one of the first reasons why many employees leave their organisations, they do not leave the companies, but their managers. Working to foster more authentic leadership is a pressing need in the 21st century.
Finally, true personality is about knowing yourself and acting accordingly. According to Harter, true personality is divided into three components:
- Self-alignment (not feeling outside of one’s self).
- Living genuinely (behaving consistently with one’s consciousness).
- Acceptance of external influence (knowing the extent to which I am influenced by external pressures, and how I match my expectations to others).
Favouring the business community through authentic leadership and other features
Experiencing authenticity is positive for organisations in two ways: it improves internal states, and it improves external reactions. Firstly, the person, whether an employee or a manager, who experiences authenticity while working, enhances their internal states and personal resources (e.g., energy and strength) and this translates into commitment, attention and dedication towards the organisation.
In turn, there is also a second mechanism by which experiencing authenticity generates a positive impact for organisations: external feedback. Cha and her team demonstrated that when the immediate environment perceives authenticity in a person, especially if speaking of a leader, four positive aspects emerge that are key to organisations:
- Identification with the leader increases, and therefore the intention to leave the company decreases and commitment increases.
- Trust towards the person who experiences authenticity increases, and trust is a key factor for the good tuning of teams.
- It generates positive states in other colleagues (e.g. energy).
- It triggers greater reciprocity among the team due to the openness and trust generated by the authentic person, a reciprocity that is a key factor for a healthy dynamism in the organizations.
It is therefore necessary to continue or start looking for new ways and avenues so that organisations, small or large, are able to find, encourage, make visible and support people and true leaders.