Authentic Value


  • How are the ideas that you have learned about Authentic Value connected to what you already knew?

The concept of Authentic Value was something I have had exposure to through various professional development courses. For example, just prior to lockdown last year I attended an intensive 1-week residential leadership course. It was strongly oriented towards the idea of ‘telling our stories’ as the best means of connecting to and leading people. We did a lot of work on unpacking our own story and being real with others and why this is necessary but challenging. One of the takeaways from that was the idea that whenever we attempt to communicate with another human being, there is rarely a 1-1 correlation between the intent of the speaking and the effect on the listener.

In short, ‘it’s all story’-  our experience in the world is followed by our interpretation, which leads to an internal state as a result of that story, and we then look for data that supports our version of that story and argue or defend it.

And so it goes- everybody walking around in this story bubble. Since we can’t avoid this as this is what makes us meaning-making animals,  it makes sense for people to get real about their story, share it, and thus encourage them to get real about theirs. So that’s how I now define being authentic: through communicating what really matters to us, we connect to what matters to others and someone in between a common ground can be achieved. Or if not, at least people can be clearer about why they disagree rather than digging trenches that keep people stuck defending their egos rather than working together for common ends.

I have my own story about professional development courses in general. In my experience of the corporate world, there is a lot of simplistic and superficial ‘pop psychology’ operators who define authenticity using constructs like: just be yourself, use positive affirmations, visualise success, eradicate ‘black hats’, think yourself happy, and so on. Now I know a bit about neuroscience and I do not discount the power of neural networks to shape how we experience the world etc. I have indeed manifested a few things for myself by refusing to settle for less. However, that experience does not yet trump my usual ‘story’, which is largely that authenticity as a concept of leadership has been captured in the service of developing personal empires. So I attend when I must but avoid them where I can as I do not find them to be authentic experiences.

In the last year or two, I have sat in endless leadership meetings with consultants taking us through various exercises and I watch my colleagues’ faces and notice my own cynicism kicking in i.e. we can actually start to become less real! Depending on the strength of the facilitator, at some point, I usually start thinking about all the actual things I could be doing with my time and I start to feel resentful. After the event, we walk away in clusters bitching and moaning! The HR manager however is pleased as punch and we read in a panui a few days later how “fabulous” it all was.

I do not discount that my own and our collective discontent because everyone is afraid of really getting real with each other and/or because our antennae are correct that we are being fed simplistic solutions to more complex issues of identity and life experience?

I also understand that my reactions are to some extent a reflection of the fact that I am often guilty of the very behavior I judge. Part of why “I hate this shit” is because there is a huge part of me that avoids intimacy and connection and in these situations, I have nowhere to hide. If I were to be really real in these events I would call out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, but it’s a lot easier for me to stick to my story that these events are a waste of my time!

  • How and what part of the learning extended your thinking around Authentic Value?

The structure and organisation of this course and the people in it have had the most impact in terms of helping me settle further into being authentic. I knew I had landed in a good place when Rich got up and told his story.  Following that, every single presenter and the course facilitators have effectively worn their hearts on their sleeves and shared of their struggles without any pretense. Now that’s authentic.

In addition to how I am experiencing the people on the course,  the simple fact that people who show their real selves are the leaders I have benefitted most from. I have been most effective as a leader when I make myself vulnerable.

The reading on this topic in Week 3 was powerful and I have found myself returning to it time again. I can’t hear enough that leadership emerges from life stories- as they say about parenting, “there is no manual”! This has been affirming as it grown my confidence that there is nothing I have to become- I just have to continue being in my own skin, testing and re-framing as I go to understand and get comfortable with who I am at my core. *

The fact that I keep returning to it tells me that It is telling me what I need to hear. It’s extended my actions in a number of ways (see the example in my reflection on Personal and Professional Capability). I am still exploring how this works for me and increasingly playing around with it. For example, when I returned to work last week everyone was either telling me how excited they were about this year or asking (and assuming) that I too am excited. I made a decision that I would answer honestly, no, I’m not that excited. I mean, for goodness sake, we are in the middle of a major government review of our sector and our organisation is being disestablished within the next 12 months. Forgive me for not being very happy or terribly excited about the work ahead of us!

  • What parts of Authentic Value are now better defined and what are you still exploring/struggling with?

I’m not sure my definitions are any better defined but the experience of continued exposure to authentic people sharing their stories with us has helped to cement that really this is the only way to go.

My biggest challenge is working out what is truly meaningful for me and creating situations where I can do/be/have that. I’ve realised that it’s not just the area of work that I do that is meaningful for me i.e. doing good in education. I hadn’t seen that clearly until reflection in this portfolio that meaningful for me means being alongside people who have similar passion and commitment- without that, I will remain isolated and depleted. I’ve been at a crossroads for some time now- looking for fulfillment by making others happy but I need to keep exploring what makes ME happy. The more I show myself the more opportunities I will give myself to develop new experiences that will create new narratives.

*note: I struggle sometimes with the notion of having a core or essential identity, as who I am at any given moment – and how I present to the world- is dependent on the context and is always a work in progress.  But nevermind, it works here and I do like to think that there is a core of human goodness that we are all born with, albeit one that is always shifting and is does not always have a unitary expression.