When I’m not doing cool stuff like writing blogs and consulting I like to read (and write, I write books for a hobby). I read pretty much anything, but enjoy fiction when I’m relaxing.

One of my favourite authors is a chap called Albert Camus, a Frenchman born in Algeria, who was a goalkeeper and famously once said that everything he knew he learned from football.

Camus was also a philosopher, an absurdist, and good mates (for a while) with Jean-Paul Sartre, who was an existentialist. If I were a philosopher, I daresay I would be an absurdist too, with a measure of existentialism thrown in for good measure.

By now I’m sure most people are getting bored and want me to get to the point, and I promise that I will, but I just need to blether on for a little while longer about philosophy, so please indulge me. It will be worth it, I promise.

Existentialism is quite a tricky concept, and to get your head around it, you may want to read Sartre’s epic Being and Nothingness, all 600-odd pages of it, it being an essay on Phenomenological Ontology. I read it. All of it. Mainly to look cool in the pub.

Anyway, one of the concepts that is key to the work, and to existentialism is the concept of authenticity and bad faith. Sartre says we are who we are, due to the various elements that make up our characters, and we must know what that nature is (he called it facticité, or facticity), and we must live in a way that is true to that. If we don’t, then we are self-deluding and living in bad faith, or mauvaise foi

I read Sartre at University, where I did a subsidiary course in philosophy, and really got into it. Sorry.

A good many years later I was on a leadership development course, which was a truly inspiring, if not life-changing event, and I found myself yattering on to my colleagues over a pint in the evening about Sartre, mauvaise foi and facticité.

We had spent the day doing some serious navel gazing, looking inside ourselves, getting to the root of who we were. We used a great technique to discover our core values – just think of something you like, something that motivates you, and then ask “what does it give you” over and over again, until you can’t answer any more. My core value, what I sought most, was fulfillment, by the way. Other people got to security, or safety, or happiness, or peace. Have a go, preferably with a partner.

Anyway, during the course of the day we had really got to our heart and soul, our true essence – our facticité, in fact. And why had we done this? Because, the fine folk who ran the course told us, we need to be true to that self in order to lead. If we don’t, then people won’t follow us. 

What we were learning was the importance of authenticity, and that is vital to leadership.

I recently came across some research done by Deloitte, which touched on the use of social media to raise leadership visibility and help employees engage with the organisational culture. Deloitte found: 

Executives may be using social media as a crutch to build culture and seem accessible — but good leadership can’t be dialed-in. Norms for building an exceptional culture and organization have not changed.”

And they found a that employees who scored highly on being happy at work and feeling valued by the company also scored highly on their belief that senior leaders acted in accordance to the values of the organisation.

This says to me that engaged employees see examples of authentic leadership every day; they see leaders walking the talk.

What does that look like? I’ve seen plenty of leaders who can do the talk, but fewer who can do the walk. The best leaders are those who do both, without any doubt.

I recall doing a series of roadshows for field-based sales people. We were developing a new operating model for them, as the world in which they operated had changed significantly, not the least because of the regulatory environment.

The star turn was the CEO, and, for most of the people in the room, it was the first time they had seen a CEO in real life, ever. His opening line was “I started out in sales, I know what it’s like to be there on a Monday morning with an empty diary”, and they were in the palm of his hand.

Because he wasn’t trying a line to pull them in, he really had been there, he was being honest, and authentic, and the audience responded.

Another leader came on board to lead a major modernisation programme. It was a massive piece of work, and I was leading the internal comms team at the time. The Programme Leader got me in on day one and said he wanted to do a regular communication. We spent quite a bit of time together, working out what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it.

In the end we went for a weekly online diary – what would be called a blog now – which was clearly and authentically in his tone of voice. It was for the firm the first time a senior manager had spoken to them on a regular basis and told them, openly and honestly, what was going on. It was truly revolutionary.

The modernisation programme was a big success. It turned the company around, from having months to live to being a modern, exciting business with a great future. I think that authentic leadership had a lot to do with its success.

If you are a leader, what is at your core, what are the values that you live by? Do you lead by the same values? If you follow a leader – are they authentic? Do you trust them, believe them, do you truly follow, or just do what you can get away with to look like you are doing as you are told?

Just keep asking – what do I want, and what does it give me…

You can see the Deloitte research here.

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