“Walking the thin line of Authenticity!”

by Didier Marlier on Sunday January 9th, 2011

When I recently showed, as an example of connected leadership, the moving video of Leonhard Bernstein conducting his orchestra[1], two participants objected, on the ground that the famous master Karajan’s style was, to say the least, far more directive, and that it hadn’t prevented him from being considered the best. Knowing of the Austrian Master’s reputation, I was taken a bit “wrong footed” by those comments. So I spent part of my vacation tracing back videos of the conductor and found that one thing, beyond being more or less directive, was probably explaining the charisma and authority of Herbert von Karajan. It was something very intangible which clearly appears on this equally moving clip: Authenticity. His Authenticity generates Trust, which in turn brings Respect. Please take a look at what those three together generate when playing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony…

This brought me back to a discussion held in Germany with high potential leaders of a large multinational. Their context was leading change. In such a case, one of our advice is to remember William Schutz’s F.I.R.O. model[2]. Following it, we all have developed needs since early childhood, through which we screen our environments and in particular the leaders seeking to engage us into change:

  • Inclusion: is about social needs. To simplify, people who are mainly inclusion driven will judge their leaders on their capacity to invite, show respect and significance to them.
  • Control: is about competence and self assurance. People with high control needs will scrutinize their leaders in search of signs of competence. Can I trust this leader? Does he deserve my professional respect?
  • Affection: is about vulnerability, openness and transparency. This is where the “smell for Authenticity” hides which some followers look for into their leaders. Do I trust him? Is he in it for himself or for us? are the intuitive questions people ask themselves here.

As people do not walk around with their preferences written on their badge and because we all have those three needs in different intensity, the safest bet for a leader wishing to engage his team is to work at the three levels at the same time.

The discussion went on around the topic of Authenticity, as most of the participants felt that, at this point in their career, they were able to handle decently the needs for inclusion and control but authenticity was more delicate. They all agreed that, Trust being more and more of the currency in leadership and change, Authenticity was not an option but a must. “How can I be authentic however, when asked to lead a change which I don’t fully agree with?” The loyalty conflict was obvious: I need to be authentic but can’t betray those who entrusted me to drive the change.

After an interesting discussion, an image emerged: Walking the thin line of authenticity! On the one side, I can not collude with my people “against” the hierarchy. I have chosen to stay as a leader in the firm, I may not agree with some of the direction we take but I obviously failed in influencing it. On the other side of the rope, at no point in time should I appear myself as a victim of circumstances (It’s the Board who decided… not me etc…). I would loose instantaneously the respect of my people. And in the middle is the tightrope of authentically sharing my own doubts and reservations but leaving it clear that my energy will be to support the change whatever my own personal opinion is.

I found it helpful and many of the leaders present in the room appeared relieved and more confident… Hope this is of value to you for this first post of the year 2011.

A close friend of mine, CEO of a multinational consultancy just wished me: “a fulfilling 2011 year, with a good balance between family, health and work. Let us be grateful for the great clients we have the honor to serve, let us create opportunities for more innovative work together and fun! Let’s keep it ‘an asshole free’ 2011!”. This is my wish to you all!

After an experiential event on top of the mountains and some days in Paris, I am now on my way to Lyon.

Have a great week all. Didier

[1] http://blog.enablersnetwork.com/2010/10/24/%E2%80%9Ca-true-master-does-more-with-less-a-powerful-lesson-from-leonard-bernstein%E2%80%9D/

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIRO

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6 Responses to ““Walking the thin line of Authenticity!””

  1. Hello, Didier!
    I’ve been following your blog for while, since we met in one of FDC’s meetings last year. Often I find very interesting remarks, many of them getting close to the authenticity theme, but this one is explicitly touching this delicate theme. Thank you for sharing this thought with us.
    I’m working in a Doctorate exactly merging communication, change and authenticity. I believe authentic corporate communication is generally missing in our organizations and I intend to give a contribution with my research to elicit how it impacts resistance to change. What you wrote estimulates me to keep working! Hope to read more of this theme from you!
    Agora me pergunto, porque escrevi em inglês….rsrsr
    Novamente obrigada e um 2011 maravilhoso para vc!
    Paula Simões

  2. Hi Didier,

    Thanks again for an interesting and insightful article (not to mention the beautiful music).

    Hope you’re doing well and all the best for ‘asshole free’ 🙂 2011!


  3. Dear Didier,
    Happy New Year! I hope your break was excellent for you and your family, and I hope you are successful in avoiding the assholes.

    I can definately connect with the challenge of walking that tight rope. When there are things happening in the company, I think someone has a few options: 1) challenge to overcome, 2) reconcile your position or 3) leave the situation. Obviously, there are there is a spectrum of choice between these three, and the tight rope of authenticity seems to be between 1 and 2. If things are too much against your personal values and principles, is it possible to stay on the tight rope? Eventually, something will have to give, either you fall off the rope or your values and principles will need to adapt.

    Late last year I had the honor of being invited a lunch celebrating the 25th year of Albert Boswijk’s consultancy – Albert is the founder of the European Centre for the Experience Economy. Albert invited Bob Quinn to speak at the lunch, and his presentation was about the ‘fundamental state of leadership’. In a nut shell, the FSL is about becoming:
    > more other focused than self focused
    > more externally open than internally closed
    > more internally directed than externally directed
    > more results centered than results centered.

    Your words (and the music) regarding authenticity reminded me of Quinn’s presentation, as I connected the word ‘authenticity’ to this state of leadership.

    If you are focused on others, if you are open to external feedback, if you are directed by your internal values and if you are seeking results instead of staying in your comfort zone – this could be a recipe for authenticity.

    Have a great 2011!

    Kind regards,
    Chris Parker

  4. Hi Didier

    You probably know what an advocate I am of Firo B (Michael says I use it successfully to “un-**** people’s lives!”) Of course, the big challenge with building authenticity is building the trust that enables you to help people to overcome their life-limiting scripts and fixed points…particularly around their sense of ‘likeability’ and ‘significance’. Sometimes it is impossible to overcome their suspicion around our motives for wanting to build truly authentic relationships because of early life experiences and their inability to move on from these. Whilst recently delivering career coaching for a public sector organisation that was making several hundred people redundant just before Christmas, I spent much more time counselling people around their self-concept than I did helping them to develop career strategies. Until we could break through their barriers to enable them to believe that they were capable, competent, likeable and worthy of employment, we couldn’t begin to build strategies for finding a good job or making the first steps towards self-employment. Self-belief had to come first!

    It is a constant reminder that the most important job that any of us can take on, is that of parent. I have spent huge swathes of my time working with clients to help them to overcome the ‘critical parent’ behaviours experienced in childhood and adult relationships and helping them to develop appropriate ‘adult’ responses – Berne has been hugely useful and I’ve found the following You Tube Clips really good for explaining the basic principles of ego states and transactional analysis to new audiences:



    Our role in giving our children a sense of significance, competence and likeability is key to raising well balanced, thoughtful and engaged adults – probably the toughest job I’ve ever had. We don’t always succeed but, if my own upbringing taught me anything, it’s love is spelt, “T.I.M.E” (making your child feel significant without smothering him or her). There is no greater gift that I can give to my own child. Trying to listen, hold back and enable your children to find their own solutions – (helping to develop their competency, when appropriate) can be a huge challenge but one that is so rewarding when I see my independent, confident, free thinking son evolving. Oh, and not being be too proud to admit when I do ‘**** up’ – something my parents would never contemplate! My son has learnt (and is gracious in forgiveness) that even adults make mistakes!

    Have a great week.

    Hope to see you in 2011.



  5. Dear Didier

    Thank you for sharing this. I must say, this is one of the best write- ups I have seen recently. This explains how lack of authenticity leads to mistrust and eventually disengagement–an invisible drain on organizational productivity and business outcomes.

    Thank you once again !

    Best regards


  6. Respecting all the opinions, I think we have two wonderful opportunities to compare stiles and situations:
    Bernstein is obviously joking, while he shows us how far can one go when leading a team with whom he has great complicity;
    Von Karajan is known as a much more directive guy, but see in his gesturing how softly he “invites” his musicians to join him…
    Great show!


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