by Meridith Levinson

Leadership, Communication and Authenticity

May 21, 2010

Authentic leaders are better able to connect with and build trust among their many stakeholders.

Being authentic is the most important communication issue for business leaders today, according to communication theorist and coach Dr. Nick Morgan. There are so many marketing messages, so much spin, bluster, back-talk and double-talk that leaders who are authentic stand out, says Morgan. Their voices soar above the cacophony around them. Their authenticity cuts through the crap. Consequently, authentic leaders are better able to connect with and build trust among their many stakeholders. 

Morgan believes people can learn to be authentic and to communicate their authenticity, and he shared his four steps for doing so during a Reach Branding Club teleseminar that I dialed into last week. The four steps, detailed in his newest book, Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma (Jossey-Bass 2008), are be open, connect to the people around you, be passionate, and listen.

“Authenticity means becoming open and connecting with somebody, which allows you to speak from the heart,” Morgan said during the teleseminar.

Maybe I misunderstood him, but I’m not convinced authenticity can be learned or practiced. To me, authenticity means being yourself, and trying to be authentic sounds fake. I do believe people can learn to be more comfortable with themselves, and when they do, they genuinely appear authentic to others. People can also practice public speaking, and Morgan’s four steps for becoming more authentic double as sound guiding principles for communicating with an audience. (For more advice on public speaking, see 5 Key Audience Questions to Help You Read the Room and How to Master Professional Speaking.)

One idea that is clear to me is how a person’s nervousness before a public speech or important presentation can inhibit their authenticity. They don’t act like themselves because they’re preoccupied, which in turn negatively affects their delivery.

The trick to manifesting your natural authenticity in a stressful situation is to learn to control your nerves and your mind’s internal dialog. This is where the first of Morgan’s four principles of authenticity—be open—really comes into play. He says being open helps us overcome against the fight or flight instinct that takes over in stressful situations. If we focus our minds on being open—simply telling ourselves “be open”—our bodies will follow what our conscious brains say to do.

Do you do anything special to appear authentic when addressing your staff, say, or superiors? Or does being authentic come naturally to you? Do you think you can learn to be more authentic or to communicate more authentically?