Can authentic leaders tell the truth?

By Natanya Rutstein

We live in a world where reality is increasingly being created and to a certain degree warped, through the scripting and filtering of our lives. In some way or another so many of us paint a picture of our lives through social media that reflect the best possible “version of ourselves”. From posting only those shots which portray your happiest and most impressive holidays or taking at least 5 photos in order to find the “perfect shot”. If authenticity is about showcasing the truest version of ourselves, we are all guilty in one way or another of lacking real authenticity. In a world of diminishing reality and tainted authenticity, the development of authentic leaders is more important now than ever before.

In 2018 I wrote a series of blogs on the popular theory of Authentic Leadership. I proposed South Africa’s very own Trevor Noah as an example of a truly authentic leader. Noah’s leadership purpose has been profoundly influenced by his life stories, growing up in South Africa’s apartheid era. Through the authoring of his life-stories– Born a Crime and other stories (Pan Macmillan) Noah has developed a solid and strong moral compass which has enabled him to lead with true conviction and authenticity. He has found purpose by highlighting injustice and promoting fairness and equality in his material and actively seeking out talented comedians from disadvantaged backgrounds and communities.

But if knowing what you stand for and truly value – and then acting in accordance with these beliefs- is the sole test for leading with authenticity then one could logically presume President Donald Trump to be an authentic leader. Afterall, the 2016 American Elections were referred to by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and many other news outlets as the “authenticity election.” President Donald Trump was and still is viewed by the majority of Republic voters as a leader who is acutely aware of his own morals and values and consistently acts in accordance with such. He means what he says and says what he means.

In my opinion, the American President who we see show-casing himself daily, is in fact an authentic version of who he really is. But we must be careful not to confuse authenticity with truthfulness, honesty and integrity. Authenticity should mean more than just being yourself. According to the Washington Post’s Fact Checker’s database that analyses all statements made by the President, President Trump has made 8,158 false or misleading claims in the first two years of his presidency.

Authentic leadership also requires a commitment to developing yourself through life-long self-exploration and the ability to seek and listen to honest feedback – especially when it’s not what you want to hear. Authentic leaders build strong support teams which help them to stay on track and correct them whenever necessary. Authentic leaders are able to find a balance between being motivated by money, power etc. and a greater purpose. Whether or not President Trump meets these standards is highly debatable. However, the way I see it, we must be very careful not to equate authentic leadership with those leaders who say what they mean and mean what they say without being truthful and honest.

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