Authenticity: A Buzzword Revisited

Written by: Joe Gerstandt, Co-Founder of Talent Anarchy

Unfortunately for all of us, authenticity has recently taken on buzzword status and today the word is thrown around casually and frequently as if it were a simple, safe and common thing. Those of us in the people business might want to think about taking this word back and taking better care of it. Authenticity is a righteous thing. Authenticity is a powerful thing. Authenticity, properly understood, is fundamental to any and all conversations about this work we do, it has a rightful place in any conversation about anything related to working with humans.

It is not, however, simple. If it were simple, I do not think that these would be our most common regrets at the end of our time on this planet. Authenticity is not simple, it is not neat and orderly, it is not always safe, and it is certainly not common…especially in the workplace.

This lack of authenticity is not a result of people going to work deliberately and intentionally pretending to be someone other than who they are (okay, once in a while that happens!), but rather because of our very real tendency to play small and to keep things to ourselves. There is often real or perceived risk in being different. Our desire to fit in, to belong, to be “a part of,” is probably one of the strongest of human drives and in order to fit more neatly in, we often play down, cover, or deny aspects of our personality or identity that make us different.

We recently spent a day with the leadership of a very cool, very successful company. We could tell that this was an organization that people loved working for. One of the employees gave us a ride to the airport at the end of the day and without any prompting from us, was talking about how and why she loved working for this particular organization. “I have never had a job that I hated,” she told us, “but before this I had never had a job that I loved either. This is the first place I have worked where I do not have to cover up my tattoos, and that may seem like a small thing to a lot of people, but it is not a small thing to me.”

Authenticity simply means being true to who you are. While there are often risks involved in being authentic, whole and unique at work, not being true to who you are comes at a real cost as well. When the individual has to do all of the accommodating, by suppressing aspects of their identity and values to fit in, their sense of self is eroded as well as their level of commitment to the organization.

“There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do.”

– Freya Stark

Joining any organization or social group involves a certain amount of conformity. Conformity, shared values, and shared purpose in the right amounts hold people together and provide needed parameters and direction to diverse groups and teams. Too much conformity is dangerous and wasteful.

How is your organization doing? How are you doing?


(About the Author: Joe Gerstandt is a leader helping organizations understand diversity and inclusion. As a keynote speaker and consultant, Joe works with Fortune 500 companies, small non-profits, and everything in between. Seamlessly interweaving art and science, Joe uses stories and research to illustrate how next generation cultures can flourish both inside andoutside the workplace.

Talent Anarchy is the dynamic duo of Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt. The two have stayed busy traveling the world, working hard to provoke, entertain, educate, and inspire. The story of Talent Anarchy dates back to 1999 when Jason and Joe met through work. These two were fated to be friends and realized quickly that they had much in common. One example was their shared belief that much about the world of work could “suck less.”

In addition to the speaking that they do together, Jason and Joe also dabble in event design and facilitation, wrote a book together, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, and are in the early stages of their next book.)

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