Is 'authentic leadership' still relevant, or should we adopt 'profilicity' at work?
In this week's podcast, Sam Gilbert and Hans-Georg Moeller join me for a discussion about the end of an identity era. That is the era of authenticity. It is Georg's contention that we are leaving this world behind, and with it a lot of the pressure and stress associated with having to prove one's authentic self. That is to say, not everyone is a creative genius or a Nobel Prize winning scientist - but there is a pressure to demonstrate one's unique talents if one is to be considered 'authentic' - consistently having to show what makes you special.
But in the 21st Century, perhaps what makes us special is the elegant way in which we can flex our personality and remix the way we represent (re-present) ourselves to those we meet. And given that those we meet are themselves different to us, with different expectations, it is an art to represent a modified version of our 'self' when we come across them. This approach has echoes of the Chinese sincerity approach towards identity - in that we adapt our self and our behaviours towards others when we encounter them based on the 'role' we play in our relationship to them.
It's a long way from having to stick rigidly to the notion of an unbending, uncompromising 'authentic self' that everyone else should somehow have to work around because we are so brilliant at our core. In fact it is an approach that shuns ego and thinks more about the others we are trying to relate to. There's something very refreshing about that.
For as Sam Gilbert points out on the podcast, too much focus on authenticity, can lead to problems and he thinks this seems to be happening to many people in their professional lives. As he says, many younger people in contemporary workplaces have very high demands when it comes to authenticity, especially drummed into them by those holding to the notion of 'authentic leadership'. This is an idea that leaders need to be less 'command and control' and more in touch with their own feelings, sensitive to the feelings of others who work for them. But he asks, has this gone too far?
There are now a lot of people in the professional world who think they must at all times be their 'authentic self' which translates into behaving in a manner that previous generations would consider unprofessional. If something makes you angry, or upset and you are in a professional interaction with your colleagues, not reacting in the moment can present itself as a difficult idea.
And I was thinking about the Will Smith-Chris Rock debacle at the Oscars. That really was the pinnacle of a professional environment, one that usually sees everyone on their best behaviour as they are lauded in front of their peers and future employers. Whatever we might think about what was said, the anger from Smith boiled over and he was not able to contain it, slapping Chris Rock but also shouting obscenities for all to hear. This was in the middle of the workplace.
Was he demonstrating his authentic self? Some thought so. But it showed a complete lack of consideration for the others around him, to whom he related, and for whom this was a very special occasion. If he had have adopted a post-authenticity, sincerity or profilicity approach, he may have decided to take his authentic self out of the moment, and assuage his anger in a different manner.
As Georg puts it on the podcast:
"I refer to an article by a colleague of mine... about electronic music, how electronic musicians in the same gig in the same night, play under three or four different names, and they play different kinds of music. And not only this, in this music, they relate differently to the audience and relate differently to the persona they are. And it's like a whole different thing.
...through profilicity we rediscover this ability that we once had in sincerity, we have to assume different identities in different relationships, which is a good thing, which is not a bad thing.
We're equally the Father as we are the kid. And that doesn't mean that they kind of cancel one another out, they enhance one another. With profilicity, living and creating and identifying with, and being invested in different profiles, we can actually go back to some form of richer existence - why not?"
So the question is: should the workplace dump the idea of authenticity after all? Is it an impossible standard to hold people to? Are we now entering the age of profilicity not only online and in our individual lives, but in the work place too?
Three interesting articles from the last week