Demystifying Authenticity

Bindu Kulkarni

Author: Bindu Kulkarni

Date: Sun, 2016-09-04 20:21

I recently read the book on “Leadership BS” written by Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organisational behaviour who is an expert on the subject of power and leadership. The book speaks about how leadership really works versus what is preached and propagated. The chapter on “Authenticity: Misunderstood and Overrated” made me think: we often use the word authenticity but what does it really mean?

“Authentic” refers to any work of art that is an original, not a copy. An authentic person is a person who is true to oneself and exhibits true feelings. Difficult, isn’t? To be authentic all the while?

When one is young, it is easy to exhibit true feelings. In school when one did not like a classmate it was easy to avoid him or her. As we grow up, avoidance is not always a tenable option. Often, in adult life, personal feelings are either suppressed or worked upon as the need of the hour demands. In a limited sense, you lose the freedom to act on your personal beliefs, feelings and be your “authentic self” all the while. Does that mean you are not true to yourself?

I am an introvert by nature. I do not like sharing my personal life with too many people, I have few friends on Facebook and even fewer close friends in real life but a lot of acquaintances with whom I interact in a friendly manner. I do not enjoy speaking in public forums. I prefer sitting in my room – analysing, thinking, reading and connecting the dots to build a bigger picture. But I am also an academician who loves connecting with young students, learning from them, seeing the world through their eyes and also impacting knowledge. Doesn’t this seem contradictory?

Well !! I am comfortable and love the different roles I play. As an academician at work, a social being, connecting with peers and students and also easily becoming an introvert, getting into my cocoon where I am with myself, avoiding interaction while  reflecting, thinking and of course connecting the dots. Being “Differently authentic” at different times, comfortable with both situations knowing that I am being TRUE to the situation is important to me even though I may be portraying a different image at different times.

Different roles require different skills and we humans are adaptable creatures, we learn to mould ourselves to the need of the hour. Adapting oneself to succeed in a role cannot be tagged as being unauthentic as you are being authentic to role you are playing.

This just convinces me that we often need to be true to what situations and people around expect. Sometimes it could be emotionally or physically demanding as it may contradict some learned patterns but it may be important. To appreciate what the role demands and play it to the fullest even though it is internally difficult can be called being authentic to the role.

Authenticity then implies flexibility too, as we are never fully aware of what we can become. Perhaps, in this sense, authenticity is being true to multiple roles, while not violating a core sense of right and wrong, a set of values that we hold inviolate.

In doing so, we discover a deeper sense of authenticity, for you cannot be true to yourself without experimenting with roles and boundaries; in doing so, you expand your understanding of who you are.


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<p>This is so true! I view authenticity as not just 'originality' but as being 'genuine'. So, through this lens, being true to multiple roles comes easy as does the ease of being authentic. It isn't difficult at all :)</p>

Dear Ma’am, this is a beautifully profound and thought provoking article. I could absolutely connect to this piece and think ‘Oh my, this is so true!’ while reading. The manner in which you have described your experiences and the situations that you have faced, with a sprinkle of tiny questions in between is spot on! Being ‘Differently Authentic’ is definitely being true to oneself. Being able to mould oneself into any situation and giving it the best shot even if it is out of one’s comfort zone shows the enormous amount of emotional intelligence and sincerity that one displays. Though this can get taxing, emotionally and physically challenging, if we play the role to the best interest of another, the purpose is met. In doing something different, that directly or indirectly impacts someone else in a little or a big way is in itself a huge achievement. This also shows that we are made of sterner stuff. Genuineness goes a long way in touching people’s lives. It requires a certain level of transparency, vulnerability and integrity. We should always seek to understand people, be sincere in whatever role we play, and be true to ourselves and our convictions. Reading this blog has been an absolute pleasure!

Hello Ma’am, this is an extremely well written piece and something I can easily relate to. The way you have provided the whole essence of the article in this one phrase is what stuck with me. I feel many of us , in this ever-changing , dynamic, social media driven culture feel lost many a times ; not understanding who we are , why we behave in a certain manner and are unable to “fit” ourselves. Losing our authenticity, not being aware of our internal core and worse still, not being comfortable with it is something that we go through today. The PG lab experience was one such reflection where we realised that not all of us are aware of ourselves and of what drives us. Many of us were not comfortable with the outcomes of our psychometric tests. I wonder, can one stay authentic if one isn’t self-aware? I believed not. Your definition of authenticity, of being true to multiple roles, while not violating a core sense of right and wrong, a set of values that we hold inviolate gives a different thought and makes me comfortable with my changing behaviour and needs. The point you made that “Authenticity implies flexibility too, as we are never fully aware of what we can become”. It emphasises the important point of being flexible while being true to oneself. With this view-point I now feel comfortable with being the life of a party and wishing to stay isolated. This conflict between my two, in fact multiple personas now becomes clearer and for that I have to thank you!

Being authentic as a phrase has evolved in its meaning over the period of time. As rightly pointed out, authenticity literally means to be true to yourself but this changing business landscape requires a person to perform different roles. I could very well relate to the article because I more or less fall in a similar category where my friend circle is restricted to a few close friends which is in contrast to a lot of acquaintances which I have built over the course of time. I interact with people for work related matters but at the end of the day, I need my personal space to collate all my thoughts and reflect upon them. MBTI test and subsequent conversations helped me come to terms with the fact that indeed these two faces might be part of my personality and determine how I behave in different situations. Reading the blog there were various instances where I thought to myself that “yeah, that’s true”, “hey, it has happened the same to me”, and your blog in a sense was a reassuring thing for me. Talking about the business world, VUCA- Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous, is the term being used by leaders to paint a picture of the business landscape. I completely agree with you ma’am that one can be ‘Differently Authentic’ in order to deliver the best in a given role. These roles expect one to act according to the requirements which at times may not be in sync with the one’s nature. I believe that realising and accepting the fact that not always the solutions to the situations would be as per your basic nature, shall help us gauge the problem with a wider perspective, the perspective which we might not be forming instinctively but in order to act in the best interest of stakeholders of the case, would put you in a rather comfortable zone and help to take better decisions. Being flexible doesn’t indicate that you compromise on your core values. These core values remain the driving force behind how you react to a situation and arrive at a conclusion. But it helps to adapt better to the changing business environment delivering with greater efficiency. Also, to be able to lead your team better in such a demanding environment, one needs to remain authentic to the problem as it convinces you to believe in yourself and that is when you are able to guide the team with improved clarity of goals. Being flexible opens up one’s mind to think of directions in which one might not have ventured into and which might build upon one’s personality. Our personality is not cast in stone but is ever evolving where we continuously learn from our experiences. One who is smart enough to take note of these nuances will be able to take advantage of them in long run and hence I believe a leader acting in the best interests of the people involved in combination with being true to oneself shall be effective and successful.

This article got me thinking about who I am and who I want to be. Whatever you write here is true, being authentic truly means, being true to yourself. We meet so many people in the journey of our life, with some we get along well, in some we find comfort and yet there are some whom we just cannot stand. In a professional setting, it is not possible for us to not interact with anyone, we have to talk and work together, but that does not mean that we are not authentic. You have so beautifully explained the concept of being ‘authentic to the role’, do what the role and situation demands of you and be true to that. Unlike your personality, I am an extrovert, I like sharing with people, love meeting new people, I can spend hours listening to their stories and talking about mine, and I guess this is because I trust very easily, but yet on various occasions, I prefer to sit on my bed and read a book, or watch a movie, or just be there on my own, this does not mean that I can just be one of this person, I can be both and both of these roles that I play are authentic because I am being true to myself and true to the role. But what also matters is to act in a way in which we are comfortable. Also, as you have mentioned, we cannot build a boundary around ourselves to help us stay authentic, it is important to experiment, to learn and change in the process. As the world continuously changes, we have to continuously search for the inner us in the world, and in the process need to change, change for the better, but being authentic to the values that we hold. It is very difficult for us to know ourselves completely, hence the literal definition of authenticity does not work, and being different in various roles is what helps us understand ourselves and makes us better human beings. And it is true that in this journey of change, we discover ourselves and keep redefining our authenticity. The meaning of authenticity has changed over the years and it means different things to different people, but you have explained it in a very simple way which makes you questions oneself, and forces you to think. It is very important for us to understand the concept of ‘differently authentic’, as future managers we will have to handle these kind of situations almost every day and the believing in oneself and acting true to our own values is what is going to give us the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Indeed, it is an extremely important article which everyone should read & think deeply in realizing their standing point in the level of authenticity. It also will help the audience to get a clarity whether their real role play is authentic. Because, I presume that most people among us will still have the doubts in the authenticity of their role play under different circumstances. As described in the article, we cannot learn and make our internal characteristics to change to a large extent. It depends on the situations and our real characteristics. Beyond behavioral traits, the way they react in different situation, locations & circumstance only defines their authenticity. The behaviors & attitudes are being nurtured from our childhood. Thus our behavior is extrovert or introvert, just because of the way we are grown up. With the same behavior when there are restrictions in situation we tend to defend our actual behavior and act according to the situation. This blog is not only seen in academic point of view or the business managers point of view, it also helps a human to be true to their heart in every aspect at all times including their personal life. This will enhance our level of dignity in the society which we are into. Also, we will be good to our surrounding and ensure a healthy environment. It will give us a self-satisfaction & make us feel internally we are genuine and had handle the situation true to our heart. All these ensures self-realization and better outcomes upon decisions. From the article any personnel who is growing as leader in any space would definitely would be understanding that they are supposed to act true to their internal core values with respect to the situations.

I can very well relate to your thoughts and the whole dilemma of authenticity and being authentic, currently going on. So, to give you a brief idea about the story, I have been a very extrovert person and at times very introvert too. So it has been a mix of the two. To pen down how lost it literally feels about, how you define your authenticity, With many unknown, I defer to speak, I defer to opinion, But with ones I care, the natural comes along. As I have grown, the voice of me has depressed, My mind has become conscious, my inner voice has denied speaking to me, Am I authentic anymore? Is it justified? Amidst so many who are ready to provide a judgement about your authenticity, how do one defines it for him/her? Is authenticity what defines you or is it the situation that defines your authenticity? There are so many question that springs about the one word, and yet I am baffled how does it even matter to all of them. As I went through the article, which emphasizes on being authentic to the roles that the situation demands, I connect more to the significance of it. As we grow, as we get into myriad roles, our authenticity becomes more questionable. We are default to function based on the essence and need of our role. For e.g. when dealing with sensitive issues at family, we are more inclined to behave as a sensitive person while if we are dealing a situation that is sensitive again in our professional arena, we become a rational being. Does it make our authenticity questionable? Of course not, our authenticity is not defined by being sensitive or rational, but by our true quality to be able to solve the problem. When you realize that authenticity is not when you depict certain qualities, its more about how much effort you put in to manage the situation, rather than being careless and reckless about it.

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