The Art of Authenticity
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Episode 62 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio, Episode 62, The Art of Authenticity. This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement, Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of success, on the web at BusinessAdvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement, Incorporated, and with me as always is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. And as always, it’s so great to be here with you again for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio. If this is your first time listening, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to accelerate themselves and their companies to their next level of success. So Pam, what are we focusing on today?
Pam Harper: Authenticity, and what it takes to be an authentic leader. So Scott, what would you say is a common view of authenticity?
Scott Harper: We’ve often heard people say things like, “You’re either authentic or you’re not. You’re either the real deal or you’re a phony.” That’s what we hear.
Pam Harper: Yes, it’s certainly one way to look at it, but the truth is that it’s much more nuanced than that. There are actually many shades of authenticity and many factors that go into whether other people see us as authentic and trustworthy. That’s why we’re delighted to be speaking today with Dr. Karissa Thacker, Founder and President of Strategic Performance Solutions, Incorporated, a management training and consulting firm dedicated to elevating people to reach their highest potential and career satisfaction. She’s also author of the book The Art of Authenticity, A Guidebook on How to Transform Your Career by Tapping into Your Authentic Self.
Scott Harper: Good book.
Pam Harper: Yes. Karissa is often quoted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Forbes, MSNBC and many other major outlets, and is a sought after authority on the subject of authentic leadership. Her articles have appeared in many magazines, including Harvard Business Review, Business News Daily, and elsewhere. Karissa, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Karissa Thacker: Thank you Pam. Hi Scott. I’m delighted to be here with you guys today.
Pam Harper: It’s great to have you with us. We want to talk about authenticity because it is something that’s becoming more and more talked about. Let’s start out first … Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write your book?
Karissa Thacker: One of the things about authenticity and one of the things that we know about how people grow in their authenticity is through telling their own stories and hearing the stories of other people that are real, so there’s this connection and this meaning making that happen in conversation.
The biggest part of the motivation for me in writing the book is that I was in the middle of my career and I realized that I had a lot of stories that I hadn’t told, and a lot of things that I had learned from just fantastic leaders that I had worked with throughout the years.
I talk in the book about how some of us are open books and others of us are cautious souls. The book really was a challenge to myself to open up and tell my stories, and little bit more toward and open book, but I’m still a cautious soul. It’s my effort at opening up, telling my stories, and hopefully encouraging others to do the same.
Scott Harper: Okay. The title of your book is The Art of Authenticity, so obviously there are nuances in there. The first part is titled “A New Vision of Authenticity.” What do you mean by “authenticity,” and what’s this new vision?
Karissa Thacker: I think the new vision has to do with finding ways to be yourself and be successful at the same time. I kept hearing these conversations that Pam was referencing − “he’s authentic or he’s not,” and it was almost a sorting way of looking at people. It occurred to me one day that we were talking about ourselves and human nature as if we were Rolex watches or a Fendi purse. I could remember when I first moved to New York there were those street guys − you know − and they had these Fendi purses, and I kept passing and I kept passing and I kept passing, but one day I caved in and I gave him my fifty bucks and I had my first “Fendi” purse. It lasted a couple of weeks and it was pretty clear that it wasn’t authentic.
Pam Harper: It wasn’t the real deal.
Karissa Thacker: It wasn’t the real deal. When it comes to people and human nature and leadership in particular, it’s not that simple. How do we make sense of authenticity in a world where human nature is deeply affected by circumstance − deeply affect by situations? The question is, am I authentic? The book is an invitation to open the conversation with yourself, if you will. Because, Pam, the reality is that it’s not possible for me to know if someone else is authentic or not, and it’s a bit of a fool’s errand. But if my goal was to become more authentic, then that’s something that I can impact and I can choose to do on a daily basis.
Pam Harper: Okay. Just out of curiosity then, why do you think we go for trying to figure this out? Why is that sort of almost natural human nature?
Karissa Thacker: People have a drive to be authentic that is innate. A wonderful developmental psychologist named Susan Harter pinpointed the moment when people are aware developmentally of being authentic or not, or speaking their true feelings. It occurs in early adolescence. Teenagers will report discomfort when they feel like they have to fake it or hide parts of themselves. I think as we move through life our authenticity meter goes dormant and we don’t necessarily have that sense of whether we’re being authentic or not.
Pam Harper: We’ve been talking about this new vision. How does the digital era impact our need to become more authentic, especially as leaders?
Karissa Thacker: A couple of things are happening in the digital era. First, anything that can be done and automated can be done by a computer. If we think about the industrial era versus the digital era, one could in the industrial era earn financial security and a good living by basically doing the same thing every day and being mechanical, if you will. We now find ourselves in an era where most of those jobs are going away. If it can be automated, it will.
One of the ideas that I kept playing with in preparation for the book is you know in contrast to the industrial era, finding your own quirkiness and making a unique creative contribution may well be more adaptive in this era than it was in the industrial era. If you think about it from the point of view of we know that being authentic on a philosophical and psychological level tends to promote more meaning, more happiness, more well-being, but what if in this digital era it also promotes more effectiveness and more success?
Pam Harper: That’s a really interesting concept.
Scott Harper: In fact it ties in with a book by Daniel Pink that we reviewed a few months ago, A Whole New Mind. You’re probably familiar with that Karissa. He talks about how being more right-brained in today’s digital era is going to make us more unique and more useful as opposed to outsourcing or having a machine do it, and authenticity is definitely part of that.
Karissa Thacker: Yes. Absolutely. I think that for us to begin to cultivate what is unique about ourselves, even in the educational system, starting in primary school, is really something that we should consider, given what Dan and others have talked about in terms of the shifting landscape of work.
Pam Harper: That is a very new vision for authenticity to be sure. We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back we’ll talk more with Dr. Karissa Thacker, author of The Art of Authenticity, about some of the myths surrounding authenticity. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement, Incorporated, on the web at BusinessAdvance.com. We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of growth and success. If you like what you’re hearing spread the good word. Go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, select Episode 62 and use the share links for Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter at the top right of the page to tell your social media communities all about us. While you’re there, sign up for our weekly alert of upcoming episodes so you’ll always be up-to-date.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Dr. Karissa Thacker, author of The Art of Authenticity, about how important authenticity is to all of us, especially to those of us who lead. Karissa, how can people find out more about you and your book?
Karissa Thacker: My website, www.karissathacker.com, is full of information and hopefully has some helpful articles and blogs that people who would like to dive more deeply into the subject matter can. Of course, there’s an opportunity to look at the book and get an excerpt, and/or buy a copy.
Pam Harper: Also you can access this by visiting GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, Episode 62 and getting links that way as well.
Now, let’s get back to our conversation. I’ve been looking at your book; it’s organized in such a way that you have the new vision, and in the second part of your book you have “the science of authenticity.” You discuss how many people mistake charisma for authenticity, which I thought was especially timely today. Why is that? What should we all be on the lookout for?
Karissa Thacker: I think that we mistake the two for the simple reason that both authenticity and charisma create intense feelings of positivity and connection to a person. What you have with charisma is this excitement, but we know after doing decades of research on charisma is that there is on clear link to results with charisma. The way to think about it is that charismatic leaders can be authentic and authentic leaders can lack charisma…
Pam Harper: Wait a minute. That’s a little bit of a tongue twister. You can be authentic without being charismatic?
Karissa Thacker: You certainly can be authentic without being charismatic.
Pam Harper: And you can be charismatic but not be authentic.
Karissa Thacker: Absolutely. Absolutely. One of the things that I think is important is for my readers and our listeners here to have an understanding of the clues that could lead you in the direction of “Hey, am I dealing with somebody who’s just very charismatic and maybe not the real deal here?” The distinction that you want to listen for is actually based in science. There are certain approaches and ways of thinking that greater me leaders take, and then there are certain approaches and ways of thinking that greater good leaders think.
Scott Harper: “Greater me, greater good” − what’s that?
Karissa Thacker: “Greater me” versus “greater good” − Greater me leaders are leaders who are leading to elevate themselves. Greater good leaders are leading to elevate the greater good. If we step back and we get really honest about human behavior and our tribal nature, we are all looking out for ourselves to a certain extent, so there is no pure greater good leader and … Well, I started to say there is no pure greater me leader, but that might not be the case.
Looking at it from that perspective, what are some of the clues? The first clue is what kind of people does the leader surround him or herself with, and I mean their closest associates. Do you notice anybody in that circle who actually challenges the leader’s point of view? If not, you very well may have a charismatic leader who is more about greater me than greater good.
A second clue is about the team dynamics. If you have a leader and there’s a team − and we humans are hierarchical by nature, we always need a leader − but what are the dynamics among the team? Does the leader promote the team to think about ideas and the bigger picture, or him or herself? I worked with a team one time and I sat in a meeting and I counted how many times … Let’s say the guy’s name was Scott … How many times he … No resemblance to the person sitting over there … How many times the team referred to Scott versus a principle or an idea in the room. Within thirty minutes it was fifty-two times. It’s just very interesting. That’s also one of the clues that you can look for.
The third one is to begin to sort of dig below the surface with your leader or manager and try and understand who they are as a person, back to the top of the call when I said that authentic leaders tell their stories and listen to the stories of others and when we figure out the truth and connect in that way. So you’re looking for a leader that can connect with yo below the surface when the time is appropriate as well.
Pam Harper: So they actually have to invest in the relationship? If they’re investing in the relationship, that’s a sign?
Karissa Thacker: Yes. Yes. I think that’s a huge sign, Pam. I can’t take that one directly from science, and I tried to stay pretty close to the science in the book, but in practice I think that there’s that … Well, one of the things I tried to do in the book is bring the science into practice, and I will have to say that even though the science doesn’t take us where you just went directly, Pam, it’s definitely there in experience.
Scott Harper: Okay. We’ve been talking about reading other people for signs of authenticity versus charisma. In your book you also state that the notion of self-awareness in people is incomplete, so obviously self-awareness is part of our authenticity and our ability to become more authentic. What’s missing in this?
Karissa Thacker: We talk about ourselves as if we are like fixed like concrete blocks, like there’s no malleability to who we are. I find that problematic, because the more highly functional a person is, usually the more they’re able to vary and adapt to different situations.
Scott Harper: Okay.
Karissa Thacker: I want to move us from self-awareness to a conversation − “I’m an introvert. Here’s my little introvert box. Let me hide in my introvert box” − to what are the values and bigger picture ideals that motivate you. That is much deeper than a personality trait. Becoming your best self may involve stretching out of your comfort zone. Being an introvert or an extrovert is primarily about your comfort zone − and I just pick on that one because we use it so much in the business world. What I want to do is take us beyond trait psychology to the deeper questions about who you want to be as leaders.
Scott Harper: Okay. I agree that we adapt to the situation; I heard some people refer to as they swing in the breeze. They’re phonies. They tell people whatever they want to hear. What’s the difference between that and what you’re talking about?
Karissa Thacker: One of the tools in the book is a free link to go on and measure yourself on what we psychologists call self-monitoring. One of the things that we know from personality psychology is that some people are better at self-monitoring, Scott, or adapting to situations than others. The quick and dirty way to look at it is − is a person an onion with a lot of layers, or an avocado, where you sort of know what you’re getting? The center of an avocado is the center of an avocado. Onions, not so much.
I think that’s a useful tool, because a person who is by nature more of a self-monitoring person and does adapt to situations could be authentic. That may be an authentic part of them, but I don’t want to leave off the fact that what you’re talking about too, Scott, is that there are some bad apples who may not be looking out for the greater good. One of the distinctions that I think is important in figuring that out is just understanding that one of the variances in personality that is really consistent is this penchant towards self-monitoring or adapting yourself to situations with more fluidity. I’m a self-monitor. I do it without thinking about it.
Pam Harper: Okay. I guess talking about onions and avocados and apples and thinking about transparency, you speak about the myth of total transparency, which I thought was interesting. I think it’s related to the onions and avocados somehow, especially was we’re in an age of transparency where everybody … Transparency is like a favorite word.
Scott Harper: It’s a watch-word; yeah.
Pam Harper: It really is, and now you’re talking about the myth of total transparency, so let’s talk about that briefly.
Karissa Thacker: I think when people say things like, “I just want to be totally transparent,” my B.S. monitor kind of goes “beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.”
Scott Harper: Uh-huh (affirmative). “Let me be perfectly frank…”
Karissa Thacker: Yeah.
Pam Harper: “Let me be totally honest with you.”
Karissa Thacker: “Beep, beep, beep, beep.” A couple of things with that − one I talk about in the book is what I call the “truth serum question.” Whenever a client of mine is really torqued up about how nobody is telling the truth and what’s really going on, I can’t figure it out, I’m like, “Imagine for a moment that everything you’re thinking and feeling as well as everything that everybody else is thinking and feeling in this place is broadcast.” One of my clients said to me the other day, “Karissa, I feel like that’s what social media is.”
Pam Harper: That’s true. It’s a very noisy room out there.
Karissa Thacker: It’s a very noisy room. The reality is that oftentimes we ourselves as individuals may not have a total awareness of how we feel about certain things and how we actually think about certain things, so there’s that that makes total transparency a myth, but there’s also just the practicality, which is kind of where we’re going in terms of the noise. How do we make transparency a force in the workplace that can actually make us more productive and create more meaningful work? I think total transparency would be overload, and I think that’s what he was expressing and said, “Wow, that’s the digital world Karissa.”
Pam Harper: Yes. Yes. It’s true. I think you have to grapple with what is the balance, I suppose…
Scott Harper: What’s appropriate.
Pam Harper: … and even what you know about yourself in all of this. These are all considerations. We’re going to talk a little more about how to apply some of these concepts in everyday life after our break. When we come back we’ll talk more with Dr. Karissa Thacker about The Art of Authenticity. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement, Incorporated, on the web at www.BusinessAdvance.com. Pam, you know we’ve been talking for a long time about how critical open and authentic conversations are to success for any company. The thing is though, we have to admit that sometimes the conversations that really need to happen just don’t happen − for a variety of reasons.
Pam Harper: That’s right; too many to go into right now. So that’s why we’re going to suggest that you take the opportunity to download a Harper Report that we wrote a while back called How to Take Control of the Elephants in the Room.
Scott Harper: Right. We talk about how to spot the elephants in the room at a much earlier stage before they get out of control.
Pam Harper: That’s right, and we give you steps to create the conversations that are critical to get back on track and accelerate momentum.
Scott Harper: Go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, select Episode 62 and request your complimentary copy of How to Take Control of the Elephants in the Room today.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments Scott and I have been talking with Dr. Karissa Thacker, author of The Art of Authenticity, about many of the nuances of authenticity and why it matters more now than ever. Karissa, can you tell us again how people can find out more about you and about your book, The Art of Authenticity?
Karissa Thacker: Yes, www.karissathacker.com is my website. It has all kinds of information about the book and my work in helping people become more effective leaders.
Pam Harper: That’s great. Go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com and select Episode 62 to find out more about Dr. Karissa Thacker that way as well. Now we’re at the point in this episode where we want to get down to the immediately practical steps that people can take. Let’s say that somebody is driving in their car and they’re listening to this episode. What’s one thing that they could do to become a more authentic leader?
Karissa Thacker: I would encourage people to design an experiment that they could try within the next twenty-four hours. The reason experimentation is important is we don’t have a fixed self, and the more we can play and experiment with who we are and tell our stories, that helps us become more authentic. What do I mean by an experiment? Oftentimes useful experiments are in areas of paradox. When I say to people, “Do you tend to prefer to command or collaborate,” usually people say command, or they’ll say collaborate very quickly.
Scott Harper: Or “It depends.”
Karissa Thacker: Yeah, it depends. An experiment would be if somebody said, “I tend to prefer to collaborate,” I would say, “Try on a command face tomorrow.” Or if it depends, choose one and then try to switch gears, Scott. Design an experiment that takes you to a different place as opposed to being on automatic pilot. The biggest enemy to authenticity, to spontaneity, to finding meaning in our lives is auto pilot, so useful experiments really do keep us engaged in our own game, as well as help us continue to build and create that sense of self that can get stale or fixed.
The other one that people usually find useful is I use the term some people tend to be open books, other people tend to be more guarded, more cautious selves. Another experiment is that if you tend to be more cautious, find a specific way tomorrow to open up more. Nothing big, nothing major, no megaphone, but just reach out and build a relationship in a different way. If you tend to be an open book, find a way to protect yourself. The experiment is this ongoing literal experiment with “who am I in the world and what works for me?”
Scott Harper: That makes a lot of sense. As a person who was trained as a research scientist, experiments are very exciting to me. And you have to be very clear about the question you’re asking. “What do I want to get out of my experiment to get more insight into whatever it is I’m looking into?” A hundred percent, that’s great. What’s another piece of practical advice?
Karissa Thacker: I think if you can name three specific people that you go to often who you know are going to disagree with you and you take their advice, then you are getting a balanced view of the world. If you can’t name three people that you surround yourself with that you tend to disagree with and you actually think they’re right at times, you’re not surrounding yourself with a balanced point of view about the world.
This echo-chamber of our own minds … We were talking about digital. I think it’s even easier in some ways to surround yourself with an eco-chamber of people who think just the way that you think, and to me that’s-
Pam Harper: That could be dangerous.
Karissa Thacker: It’s incredibly dangerous. This idea of surrounding ourselves with diverse viewpoints is critical for self-development.
Pam Harper: If we’re listening to other people, we’re taking the other side, we’re doing something that would be contrarian to our automatic nature, what is it we’re supposed to be looking for in ourselves? Couldn’t it be confusing to say I thought that my authentic me was this and now all of a sudden I’m going against what I thought I valued? I’m a little confused.
Karissa Thacker: The notion wouldn’t be to change political parties with that one, Pam. The idea would be to take in the alternative viewpoint and really listen to it. What I have found fascinating over they years is that … This experiment method that I do every day, and I have never had a client come back to me and say that felt fake. What they come back to me and say. “Karissa, that worked,” or, “Karissa, that didn’t work for me.” This notion of finding what works for you and this idea of continuing to find what might work better for you, that’s the point, Pam.
Pam Harper: So it’s stretching your possibilities really?
Karissa Thacker: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Pam Harper: And making you think maybe I’ve been very habitual in my thinking and there’s more to me than I think and that there are more ways for me to grow as a person?
Karissa Thacker: That’s what I’m up to. People often discover in this process of experimentation that they’re capable of far more than they ever thought.
Pam Harper: This is great. What’s a third thing that people can do?
Karissa Thacker: Diane von Furstenberg in her autobiography famously said, “I did not know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew the woman that I wanted to be,” which is an interesting philosophical sounding statement. However, one of the things that we lose site of in our day-to-day world is that we are becoming a person who embodies certain values and model certain values. I encourage all of my leaders to write down two people that they admire, why they admire them … So let’s say I admire Scott. Why do you admire Scott? Because he’s intellectually curious. Then use the phrase “I am,” and go, “I am intellectually curious.”
If you start with three or four characteristics, you can really begin to get a sense of the kind of person that you want to be. I have my leaders go over those statements every morning if possible, or keep them in a folio so this idea of keeping track not just of what you’re doing and your to do list, but what kind of person, what kind of leader do you want to be?
Pam Harper: Karissa, this has been a really great conversation. Do you have any final thoughts for us on this particular topic?
Karissa Thacker: The thing you want to remember is that there’s your success, and then there’s the being true to yourself and feeling good about where you are in your life. That’s a meter that I think high powered business folks and entrepreneurs can lose sight of, so there’s this accomplishment meter, but there’s also there’s a meter of “am I being true to myself? What’s the meaning? What’s the purpose?” Both of those barometers really matter, and the book really is an invitation to pay continual attention to both of those meters.
Pam Harper: Thank you so much for being our guest today.
Karissa Thacker: It was a pleasure.
Scott Harper: Karissa, thank you again, and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, download How To Take Control of the Elephants in the Room, or open a conversation with us, go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com and select Episode 62.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: … wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to reflect on:
Scott Harper: What’s one thing that I can do today to experiment on becoming a more authentic leader?