The Problem with Being an Authentic Leader

The delicate balance of authenticity and confidentiality in leadership.
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Coco Chanel put it best: “Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.” The political and marketing arenas have picked up on this need to be genuine. Entrepreneur Magazine exposed the trend of millennial women using the power of the purse to send a message, which has in effect, changed the way companies brand their products. The author writes, “Millennial women distrust traditional advertising because we know that marketers are trying to sell us on impossible ideals.” In a nutshell, they’re looking for authentic portrayals of women in marketing.

Traditionally, the word “authentic” referred to a work of art that was original to the creator. In essence, it was something that genuine or not fake. In a more contemporary frame of reference, it identifies someone who is transparent about the way they think or feel. And the desire for authenticity has crossed into what we expect from our leaders—so much so that many companies now encourage authenticity training within their management positions.

In this rising desire to be genuine and see authenticity in others, how can we as women leaders in the church reflect and rise to the current needs? We long to connect in meaningful ways and openly express how we truly feel to those with whom and to whom we minister. There are times, however, when we are privy to information that we need not divulge—both the news and our opinions about it. Below, we will look at how to balance authenticity with intentionally holding back.

Emotional Authenticity v. Strategic Authenticity

In a blog post from Psychology Today, Dr. Christine Meineke distinguishes between emotional authenticity and strategic authenticity. Emotional authenticity represents the value of allowing your “true feelings to be known.” This is the quality that most people equate with authenticity. As part of a community, emotional authenticity helps me build stronger bonds within the group because mutual trust develops when others know how I feel. This is especially true as a leader. When I begin to open up emotionally, others start to understand my passion and the purpose behind the decisions I make.

There is a second, lesser known type of authenticity, however: strategic authenticity. The emphasis is on being true to your goals rather than to your feelings. When I served as a hospital chaplain, I often had to place my own emotions aside to best serve the families and staff at the proper time. This is an example of strategic authenticity. Meineke writes, “There is nothing inauthentic about putting on a brave face and soldiering on, if your goal is to get to a finish line.”

March30, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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