I’ve quoted my friend and mentor, David Berlo, numerous times in this column. Here’s one of his more curious gems. “The key to being effective is sincerity,” he said, “and if you can learn how to fake that, you’ve really got it made.” He was joking, of course. But like the old saying goes, there’s a bit of truth in every joke.
Key to Leadership
I was reminded of David’s quip recently when I attended a presentation on a report entitled “The Authentic Enterprise.” It was published two years ago by the Arthur W. Page Society from a study that examined the role of senior communicators in the 21st century.
Based on comments from numerous CEOs and chief communications officers, the report summed up the study’s pivotal finding like this – “In a word, authenticity will be the coin of the realm for successful corporations and for those who lead them.” The report goes on to say, “Demands for transparency are at an all-time high, and give no sign of ebbing.”
Reality is Fabulous
Perhaps it’s not surprising that businesses have struggled with the elemental need to be straight shooters. It’s certainly not new – just look at what Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden more than 150 years ago …
“Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, music and poetry would resound along the streets. Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks, which we can call reality.”
Despite the apparent yearning for greater authenticity … or sincerity … or reality, some skeptics think it’s mostly a hoax. They argue that when stakeholders – inside or out – say they want more authenticity, all they’re really looking for is consistency. I guess they haven’t run into as many consistently inauthentic “spinners” as I have.
A Choice and a Voice
Still, the remark made me examine what I mean when I use the word authentic. It was easier to grasp its significance by describing what I mean by IN-authentic. Here are some words and phrases that come to mind – doubletalk … misdirection … sanitizing bad news … glamorizing good news … manipulating the truth … distorting the facts … empty jargon … phony platitudes. It’s rarely an outright lie – just an artful shading of reality. Sound familiar? From where I stand, that’s a whole lot more sinister and unsavory than merely being inconsistent.
Professional communicators have a choice and a voice. We can play along and help our organizations engage in “shams and delusions” that strain credibility – or we can be champions of authenticity. Promoting the latter, the Page report says, “If we choose this path, we can transform our profession, open up new and meaningful responsibility and learning, and create exciting new career paths for communications professionals.” Now that’s something to look forward to – sincerely.
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