The power of authenticity

Euan Semple Profile picture for user euan_semple March 16, 2014
Authenticity is an important topic because it is instantly recognizable. It's the way we sort fake from reality, cruff from the good stuff. Euan deconstructs what it means to be authentic

© Stuart Miles -
We've all sat through conference panels. You know the sort with managers looking awkward on the stage, trying to condense their thoughts and share insights. We've all seen people like the two senior managers I am about to describe, stereotypes from a mix of memories.

At first glance they look the same, both male, similar age, grey suits and colourful ties. Not much to tell them apart on the outside but as soon as they start talking the differences are clear.

The first to speak holds himself upright in his chair and talks slowly and deliberately. He is a snappy dresser, handsome in his own way, and very much a "player". Always looking at the audience to make overly deliberate eye contact, using words he knows they will relate to, but delivering them in a way that is about as convincing as a second hand car salesman.

He talks of Twitter and Yammer. He says how important it is to involve people in decisions and that he is all for greater consultation. But when you look at his Twitter account he's only posted a total of a dozen times! It is clear that, in his part of the organisation at least, he is going to stay very much in charge.

Second to speak is open faced, easy going older man who speaks gently but with intensity and with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

He tells tales from his past of organisational ducking and diving, knows how to spin a good yarn, and has the audience in the palm of his hand. He tells stories of his own journey into blogging, his attempts at authenticity, his feelings of risk and vulnerability.

But he also speaks of his feeling of excitement at having direct connection with his department. Not only his department but the whole organisation. His enthusiasm is infectious, his stlye disarming, and he conveys a sense of competence and power which you can see the audience responding to.

The first speaker has learned the words. I meet others like him all the time, who attempt to be down with the kids, but they end up looking like your Dad dancing at a disco. You can tell from their body language that they still set themselves apart, see themselves in charge, and will only pay lip service to "employee engagement".

The second speaker is in charge of a huge budget in a highly politicized and public organisation. He has the sort of responsibilities that would have given him every excuse to be cautious and guarded. And yet here he is in public talking of the vulnerability of admitting that you don't have all the answers. Sharing his nervousness that no one would pay any attention to him.

Authenticity is one of those words that get used and abused. In the early days of blogging it meant something. It meant the ability to say what you think and to do so in your own voice. It is the sort of thing that the diginomica team is good at and actively encourages.

It is the way we talk to each other in real life. It is the language of getting things done rather than throwing your weight around. It is a long way from the management speak that we have grown so accustomed to. Adjusting to these changing expectations of management, and our online modes of communication, takes more than using new words. It calls on us to rediscover our voice, to strip away the armour we have worn for so long.

I don't ever underestimate how hard it is for those brought up in a very different world where authority came from your job title and was supported by the language you used, the clothes you wore, and who you chose to talk to. The challenge is remembering how to talk normally, to say what you think, and to say it in plain language. To manage through conversations. We all know that we respond well to this.

This is why I respond so well to the people like the second manager at the start of this article. It is why he got the response he did from the attendees, and it is why you just know that he is a sign of things to come.

Image credit: © Stuart Miles -

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