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Be Authentic: Stokefire's 2nd Core Value

Welcome to the second installment of the five-part stream-of-consciousness blog series on Stokefire’s core values.

You may want to read the first installment if you're new here.

Although authenticity is our second core value, it is also (somewhat confusingly) the first of three values at the ‘heart’ of Stokefire’s value set. Each of these three values is derived directly from the Linden’s Lens model that serves as the foundation on which all of our work is built. [I'll be writing about the Lens a lot in the coming months, but if you're impatient, I've included an old TEDx Talk where I share a precursor to the model at the bottom of this post.]


There’s a relatively new way of thinking that suggests being authentic is about celebrating what makes us unique, and while that’s an interesting idea and probably a very healthy one, it’s not quite what we’re going for here.

Linden’s Lens is built around the idea of wholeness. Not in a touchy-feely way, but in a dry and logical one. Being inauthentic - as happens when telling a consequential lie - fractures us. From that moment we have two different identities; who we actually are in reality, and who we’re trying to trick people into believing we are.

The inauthentic version of ourselves (or our organizations) is by definition not whole. It can’t be, because it doesn’t actually exist. Anything consequential that we achieve through dishonesty or misdirection has no solid foundation. It’s a house of cards built on air. The moment people realize that we lied, *all* of our achievements - even the ones we earned legitimately - can be called into question, and consequences start piling up. In the organizational world that means lawsuits, reduced productivity, increased employee turnover, inability to recruit decent talent, client loss, decertification, or worse.

Inauthenticity is incompatible with all the stuff we hope our organizations can achieve. Sustainable growth, stability, and mission fulfillment are unobtainable.

But, rather than spend more time belaboring the bad, let’s get to what being authentic actually means according to our model.

Honesty: We believe what we say, if we’re not sure what we say is true then we say that, too.

Transparency: We say what we believe - and the reasons why we do what we do. If we’re asked for our thoughts we don’t hide them or only share selectively. And we do this without oversharing or overloading others with trivial information.

Proactivity: We are honest and transparent without needing to be prompted. That includes sharing that we don’t understand or believe something.

Developing honesty, transparency, and proactivity within an organization - and between an organization and its stakeholders (clients, constituents, members, shareholders, etc.,) brings massive direct and indirect benefits to the bottom line of the organization and its ability to fulfill its mission.

Organizational authenticity is critical to building strong and lasting internal and external relationships within and between leadership, employees, audiences, and stakeholders. Authenticity doesn’t just result in a happier workforce.

With authenticity, organizations and their employees make better decisions because they’re based on the combined relevant beliefs and knowledge of the team. Productivity increases because employees share and can learn from best-practices as they’re established. Productivity also improves because failed efforts are also shared, ensuring that others either avoid going down the wrong path or can look for ways to travel it that avoid the pitfalls already discovered.

Authenticity brings situational awareness. Employees have access to the true motivations of an organization, and can make decisions in line with that purpose without always having to ask for guidance. Further, organizations that don’t exhibit authenticity internally are by definition not situationally aware. They can’t be. The moment someone keeps important information or beliefs from someone else who needs it, the ability of the organization to see a situation for what it is and make an informed decision is destroyed. Authenticity enables us to be passionate about what we do. It enables employee engagement and internal drive. When the beliefs that drive an organization are in line with employee interests and beliefs, it creates a symbiotic relationship where each is invested in the other's success. That drive and engagement can last as long as those beliefs remain clearly aligned, bringing improved productivity, morale, and profits. Authenticity promotes accountability. When an organization is transparent about how it operates and makes decisions, stakeholders inside and outside the organization can both hold the organization accountable, and contribute to the efforts that will make the decisions effective.

Authenticity enables audience empathy. Empathy (or perspective-taking) is key to compelling action. If an organization isn’t clear about why it’s doing whatever it’s doing, then no one outside of the executive suite can relate. This creates resistance, slowing down implementation and acceptance of change.

Perhaps most importantly, authenticity starts at the top. No one can bring authenticity to an organization led by inauthentic people. If the stated interests and motivations of the leadership team aren’t clearly in line with their decisions and actions, none of authenticity’s long-term benefits are reachable.

Can you succeed without it? Sure. And you can even get famous doing it. Enron, Madoff, Bear Stearns, and Lance Armstrong did exceptionally well for themselves by building their successes on lies and secrets. But it doesn't last.

If you want a shortcut to riches or fame and don’t care about the damage you may cause to others or yourself along the way? Being inauthentic is a great place to start.

But... please... don’t hire or work for Stokefire in order to help you do it.

Next week? Stokefire's third value: Accountability. See you then! P.S.: Here's that precursor TEDx I mentioned at the top. [If you want to see what I look like getting progressively more panicked, this is a must see. For reasons that become obvious in the video, I was TERRIFIED.] P.P.S.: Broadway, I await your call.


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