About Authenticity : About Authenticity Brené Brown, University of Houston Researcher Professor+ Huffington Endowed Chair

Cornerstone China

My son, who is now an independent adult, introduced me to Brené Brown when he was a student in college. He had seen her TED Talk on Vulnerability and wanted me to see it to understand what he had been thinking about. She was able to put his thoughts to words. Years later I met Brené at a conference in London England at the annual gathering of the International Coaching Federation. She was the keynote speaker.

Her message remains powerful……please share her book Daring Greatly with someone you love.

Here is a recent article, her response to the Adam Grant New York Times Op/Ed:

Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice

We love buzzwords and catchphrases—until the split second that we don’t.Authenticity is the perfect

example. The first time I used the term was to describe a collection of behaviours that had emerged as important in my dissertation research (2001). In the time that I’ve been studying and writing about authenticity the word has become so overused that it has almost lost its meaning. It’s an eye-roller. You canoften chart the demise of a good word or phrase to the minute advertisers start using it to sell us everything from underwear to tortilla chips.

Unfortunately, the problem that drove authenticity’s popularity in the culture has not gone away. We are sick of the hustle and the bullshit and the fakery. We are tired of trying to live up to impossible ideals, and messy and real over pretending and people-pleasing every time.

The definition of authenticity that I use in my work (The Gifts of Imperfection andDaring Greatly) is long and nuanced. Grant pulled nine words out of context. Why? Because using the central part of my definition of authenticity would have bankrupted his entire argument that authenticity is the mindless spewing of whatever you’re thinking regardless of how your words affect other people.

In my research I found that the core of authenticity is the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and to set boundaries.

Cornerstone China

For all of us who try to put this definition into practice on a daily basis, I would argue that authenticity requires almost constant vigilance and awareness about the connections between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It also means staying mindful about our intentions. Real authenticity actually requires major self-monitoring and isn’t, as Grant proposes, the lack of self-monitoring. In fact, setting boundaries is, by definition, self-monitoring – it’s thinking about what you’re sharing, why you’re sharing it, and with whom you should be sharing it.

Many of the behaviors that Grant associates with authenticity don’t reflect the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, or to set boundaries. They actually reflect crude, negative gender stereotypes. Male authenticity is associated with being hurtful, arrogant, manipulative, overbearing, and, in plain speak, an asshole. I know and work with many courageous, vulnerable, and authentic male leaders and I’d use the word inspiring to describe them.

Additionally, Grant has sketched out a highly gendered caricature of authentic women with selective links to articles about female leaders crying and not owning their power. I also know and work with many courageous, vulnerable, authentic female leaders and I’d use the same word to describe them – inspiring.

What’s interesting is that the biggest shame trigger for men is “don’t be perceived as weak.” For women, shame is “Do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat.” Basically, Grant is suggesting that rather than creating cultures that invite people to take off these gender straightjackets, we should keep hustling for our worth. No thanks. Hustling gets in the way of good work and we’ve got big problems to solve.

We need braver, more authentic leaders. We need cultures that support the idea that vulnerability is courage and also the birthplace of trust, innovation, learning, risk-taking, and having tough conversations.

“Don’t be yourself” is terrible advice. Trying to weaponize authenticity feels gimmicky and opportunistic. Quoting my definition was a choice. So was perverting it. Grant’s question is relevant, but his conclusions and the presentation of those ideas lack both authenticity and sincerity.

And as a researcher who has spent the past five years working with leaders all over the world – ranging from military leaders and Fortune 500 CEOs to creatives and entrepreneurs – I believe that buried under Grant’s faulty theorizing is a profoundly important question:

If we really want more authenticity and vulnerability, and we know that it leads to more creativity and innovation, then why do we continue to create organization and family cultures that punish people for showing up as their whole selves? And, does a call for less authenticity move us away from our goals while propping up dehumanizing cultures? 

 If you would like more information please email me, Laurie O’Donnell at laurie-odonnell@cornerstone-group.com or call me at 86 10 6518 3126

Laurie O’Donnell


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *