The Myth of Authenticity: When a Best Practice Is Anything But

“To be a great leader, you have to genuinely care about your people.”

My former boss at Prudential told me that years ago. She was wrong. And so is everyone else who believes this lie

Now, don’t get me wrong. My boss at Pru was one of the best leaders — and human beings — I’ve ever met. But like so many leaders, consultants, management gurus, and, well, pretty much everyone, she was repeating a maxim that we’ve heard so many times. Yet it’s one that we rarely, if ever, question. 

I told my boss then what I still know now: You do not have to genuinely care about your people to be a great leader. You have to make it seem as if you care — because logically, it is impossible to know if anyone is ever being authentic. 

And there it is. The “A” word. The buzzword that gets thrown in life and at work as if it truly matters — when what actually matters is not authenticity but the illusion of authenticity.

Yet we continue to promote authenticity as a key trait that we expect from leaders and colleagues. Except notice how we talk about it only in the context of positive attributes. After all, no one wants to work with or for an authentic jerk, right?

Right. 

The problem with constantly promoting authenticity isn’t one of mere illogic. Touting authenticity can be detrimental to learning and development. It can stymie career growth. It can foment the imposter syndrome. It can keep people from being their best selves. 

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I know there’s a good chance that you disagree with me. I know this because I’ve had countless conversations with HR professionals who agree with everything I’ve just said but nonetheless refuse to give up the widely recognized best practice of encouraging authenticity. It’s easier to cling to a familiar platitude than embrace a new outlook sometimes. I get it.

I do hope, however, that you’ll pause to ponder whether focusing on authenticity is really adding value to your organization — or whether it’s holding your people back.

Join me tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 2pm ET, for a fun, insightful, and (clearly) contrarian webinar to explore The Myth of Authenticity: When a Best Practice Is Anything But. We’ll be getting into:

  • What we really mean when we talk about authenticity at work
  • What we really want when we talk about authenticity at work
  • Why authenticity is an illogical concept to tout in the workplace
  • How authenticity can be detrimental to leadership
  • How authenticity negatively impacts learning and development
  • The danger of including authenticity among your core values
  • What the best leaders and employees — and Meg Ryan! — know about authenticity
  • The value of embracing inauthenticity (yes, you read that correctly)
  • The benefits of rejecting the myth of authenticity and embodying a better alternative to bringing your real self to work

It’s time to ditch the platitudes for some real talk about our real selves. Register for the webinar here. (And in case you’re curious, the webinar will explain the photo you see above, one of the last taken of me before my demise.)

Vadim Liberman is editor TLNT and ERE.net (the devil wears TJ Maxx) — a workplace renegade advancing how we think, work, and live. He has previously worked as a strategy consultant to HR and recruiting tech companies at The Starr Conspiracy, as a talent management professional at Prudential, and as senior editor of The Conference Board Review, a magazine for business leaders. Vadim loves to talk about all things HR, talent acquisition, and Bravo TV shows. Bring it!

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