The Authenticity Equation

Authenticity leads to trust, and we can all agree that trust matters. But what exactly does it mean to be an authentic leader?

The simplest answer is: be yourself. Sure, that sounds easy, but what if…

“What if my most authentic self is just plain bad at communicating with others? How can I be myself in my role when I have to do something everyday that I’m not good at?”

We hear questions like this all the time, and we understand how that can seem like a roadblock, or as it was described in earlier this year in HBR, an “authenticity paradox.”

Instead, we prefer Chip Conley’s definition of authenticity:

Authenticity = Self-Awareness x Courage

First, understand yourself and your natural tendencies. Then, have the courage to go a step further by seeking to grow into the best possible version of you.

Here’s the great news – communication skills are just a set of habits, and you can change and improve!

Take JFK. His 1962 “To The Moon” speech is often used as a prototype for communication that influences others to action – “we choose to go to the moon not because it will be easy, but because it will be hard.”

But what most people don’t realize is that JFK wasn’t always such a captivating speaker.

In John F. Kennedy on Leadership, JFK’s earliest appearances are described as “an awkward, self-conscious…young-looking man explaining his vague plans…to one day work for the government.” This sounds nothing like the JFK of we think of today!

Throughout his political career, JFK courageously pursued becoming a warm and confident speaker. He took his authentic self, applied the courage to grow and improve, and became the inspirational speaker he’s remembered as today.

This week, take a cue from JFK and try out Conley’s authenticity equation with two simple steps:

1. Learn how you come across. Self-awareness is step one. How do you communicate with your partner at home? Speaking during a meeting at the office? Seek out opportunities for growth?

2. Take a risk. What got you here, to your current position, to your current title, to your set of experiences, won’t get you there. Change something. Be courageous.


2 comments on “The Authenticity Equation

  1. I agree with John. I just came out from teaching a public speaking workshop and something I encounter often is people which find the courage to speak up, but being self-aware (or self-conscious) can’t help but excuse themselves upfront for their “poor” communication skills.

    That self-compassion is necessary to embrace the fact that this is something they need to work on, but without necessarily putting the focus on the weakness.

    Like Gary Veynerchuck says: focus only on your strengths and exploit them. I add: work on very specific weaknesses quietly.

  2. I’ve been thinking about the authenticity equation. I wonder if it should read Authenticity = Self-Awareness x Courage + a large dollop of Self-Compassion?
    I work with people who are very scared of public speaking and often they can be very self-critical. They are very aware of themselves but only from a negative point of view. I know its not as neat as the original equation but having a supportive inner voice is a powerful tool to help us take our place in the world as authentic speakers.
    I am enjoying your new book by the way!