Authenticity is a popular notion in today’s culture. “I just want to be real.” “I say it like it is.” In many cases, it is couched in terms of integrity. “I would not be telling the truth if I wasn’t authentic. It is the true me.” Social media has encouraged this posture of communication. It is easy to share and post whatever is in one’s mind. If someone likes it, great. If not, it is not my problem. Leadership has been influenced by this perspective as well. One does not have to hunt for very long before finding high level leader, e.g. CEO, politician, industry leader, who shoots from the hip regardless of the implications.
First of all, I am in favor of authenticity, in some sense. I believe it is important to be real. A person should not be fake. It is not good to be a people-pleaser to the point that you say whatever the other person wants to hear. Nor should you be double-minded saying one thing one day and then changing your opinion the next day. Our words should flow from our true beliefs and actions. With those close to us, namely spouses and dear friends, it is important to share our true thoughts and feelings so that those around us do not have to guess.
Yes, I support authenticity but more specifically Christ-centered authenticity. When I read Scripture, I do not see permission to be authentic in the way the world adopts it. Rather, I see the concept of purposeful honesty. Christ displayed it with those that approached him. He was not shy in identifying the true need of an individual and saying it exactly as it needed to be said whether it is challenging the rich man regarding his possessions or the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Yet, it was purposeful – for their own spiritual benefit.
Paul equally exhibited this quality. He openly acknowledged his needs in his letters. He did not hide behind a superhuman complex that affirms no weakness. Nor did he publicly blast people simply because he was in a bad mood (although there are times where it seems like Paul is in a snarky mood, aka towards the church of Corinth). His authenticity was for the sake of the gospel.
Leaders would do well to embrace a purposeful honesty. Truth be told, I am at the front of the line when it comes to moments of failure in this regard. I am grumpy thus I blurt out some comment. Tiredness overcomes me resulting in a moment of venting. Leadership demands restraint. It necessitates discernment, thoughtfulness, and measure. There needs to be an awareness of the implications of a comment – to myself and the people I lead. Restraint is most certainly biblical as we are instructed to hold our tongue, if the words would be unprofitable.
As I reflect on leadership and purposeful honesty, a few questions come to mind that frame some guidelines.
- Do my words bring spiritual benefit to the other person and me? It should be both. Unrestrained authenticity benefits the speaker as it serves as an emotional release (e.g. venting) but does not grow the other person.
- Am I taking the extra few seconds to filter my thoughts and emotions through Scripture? Are my words in line with truth? Is the tone of my comment honoring to God? Is my comment prompted by the spirit or the flesh?
- Am I self-aware of unprocessed frustrations? Oftentimes, authenticity is a vehicle for pent-up angst. Being attune to such issues aides in appropriate, Christ-centered authenticity.
- Is there margin in my life? Without some space, it becomes difficult to restrain our thoughts. Allowing time for minds to declutter enables us to filter our thoughts and emotions prior to communication.
Leadership is a privilege. With privilege, there comes responsibility. And responsibility encompasses not only our actions, but our thoughts and words.