Transformational leadership

Why It’s Important To Be An Authentic Leader

A recent Facebook post from a parent on my timeline was about his conflict in raising his son to be an honest and authentic individual in a contradictory world that we live in today.
On the other hand, we are bombarded with messages of ‘being yourself’ and ‘self-love’ in our current pop culture.
The Case Against Authenticity
Not surprisingly, like my Facebook friend, there have been several criticisms of philosophical theories based on an ethical ideal or a character-based ideal of authenticity by various researchers.
There are two primary criticisms of authenticity. One, the concept of authenticity is sketchy, cloudy, or vague. Two, the oversimplification of the concept is a new pop culture fad that could best be passed off as “self-help” quackery and, at its worst, a grotesque display of narcissism.
But what does “being yourself” even mean? Or, for that matter, authenticity?
But there is another dimension to the criticism that weighs in the moral perspective.
In his book, Simon Feldman, Against Authenticity: Why You Shouldn’t Be Yourself, argues against authenticity on moral grounds. He states that the inflated and oversimplified ideology of being yourself propagates everyone to be whoever they are – a good, bad, moral or immoral person.
It is why Feldman vehemently argued against the notion of people being true to themselves. He lays a condition that only good and moral people should remain true to themselves. He states that it’s better for immortal and bad people not to be true to themselves and function instead in a manner that’s in opposition to their authentic selves.
Feldman also sharply criticizes the “love-your-self-first” messages as “atomistic self-indulgence” and “malaises of modernity.”
It’s here that things get interesting and complex. In this article, we discuss authenticity, the various perspectives, why it’s even more relevant today to practice authenticity, and how to be authentic.
In Defence Of Authenticity
Charles Taylor, Canadian philosopher and author of The Ethics of Authenticity, defends authenticity as an ethical ideal and even “opens an age of responsibilization”. He states that to desire for an authentic life is inseparable from the ideal of a good life. So, amoral authenticity as manifestations of narcissism and evil is unthinkable to him. He also draws attention to how individual personalities are always involved in and influenced by social relationships.
The current pop culture definition of authenticity now makes sense in the backdrop of social relationships. The notion of a “struggle against” others played a vital role in developing the modern ideal of authenticity. The mainstream ideal of authenticity is related to resistance against the pressure to conform.
So, the current ideal of acting authentically and living an authentic life is brought into opposition against antiquated role models such as the loyal and dutiful housewife and against extreme ideals of selflessness, thoughtfulness, self-control, and with a tendency towards complete self-abandonment and self-alienation.
But, authenticity doesn’t mean being anti-social and treading into the opposite extremes of individualist and narcissist ideals of self-fulfillment.
As we see in real life, there are numerous examples of authentic conformists or people who are true to themselves when they correspond to social standards, and authentic altruists or authentic socially engaged people who are not ‘conformists’ but authentically social. Such people would not be authentic in distancing themselves from others, but they realize their authenticity in the interactions with others. It breeds a healthy definition and perspective of authenticity and social relationships.
Let’s explore these diverse aspects of authenticity with an example.
A Case Study To Explore Authenticity
Susan Wolf, in her reflections, “Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility” introduces the concepts of ‘sane deep-self view’ and ‘insane deep-self view’ with an example.
Jojo, the son of an evil dictator, was raised and educated in an environment of power, hostility, and brute force. He follows his father’s footsteps as the natural course and continues the evil legacy of sending people to prison, torture chambers, and killing them on a whim.
According to Wolf, Jojo is operating from an ‘insane deep-self view’. He fulfills the first condition of sanity, which is to know what he is doing. But Jojo fails to distinguish between the right and wrong which is the second condition of sanity, due to the problematic conditioning of his deep-self from childhood. Wolf lays her judgements of Jojo as insane and not responsible for his deeds.
Was Jojo authentic, or was he an authentic person?
Take a few minutes to ponder over Jojo’s case study, and form your judgement of Jojo’s authenticity as a person.
What does it mean to be an authentic person?
David Faraci and David Shoemaker, in their research study, Insanity, Deep Selves, and Moral Responsibility: The Case of JoJo, disagree with Wolf’s judgement of Jojo. They deny Wolf’s presumption that Jojo is insane or incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong despite his education and indoctrination. Instead, they argue that essential conditions of being a person are to think, consider different perspectives, and even choose to take a moral point of view.
According to Harry Frankfurt, an American philosopher –
“Being true to yourself means being true to the commitments, plans, and objects of caring you wholeheartedly identify with. It means being true to the self ‘you want to want to be.”
So, people structure their volitions, organize them hierarchically, decide which desires should be removed from their personality and which ones become action-guiding before they identify wholeheartedly with their decisions.
Authenticity is linked with self-authorship, an active self-formation, and a choice of a personal way of life among various alternatives. Charles Taylor calls for a responsibilization of authenticity, presupposed from responsibility for self.
In Wolf’s example, Jojo is not a wanton who acts on his immediate desires and impulses without any self-reflection, evaluation, control, or structuring. It is also not true that he is not able to distinguish between right and wrong. Instead, Jojo is unable to take a moral or even neutral point of view and judgement.
Jojo does not lack sanity, evaluation capabilities, or responsibility as Wolf suggested, but he does take any responsibility for himself as Taylor stated.
Being responsible for one’s self calls for re-evaluation, and questioning one’s values and convictions periodically, being responsible for one’s actions and outcomes. Asking questions that connect to one’s deep self such as –
“What kind of a person do I want to be?”

“How do I really want to lead my life?”

“Have I truly understood what is essential to my identity?”

“Have I actually determined what I sense to be the highest mode of life?”

“Am I true to myself and my striving for the ideal of a good life?”
Marina Oshana defines authenticity as “truthfulness toward oneself and about oneself in word and deed. She also states –
“One is inauthentic or lives inauthentically when one is not honest with oneself and, perhaps, others about one’s position in the world and about one’s ability to transform or even to take a stance with respect to that position.”
Jojo might be an authentic dictator. But, the lack of responsibility for self renders Jojo as an inauthentic person. He lacks self-responsibility and self-critical authenticity. Though Susan Wolf’s judgement might be flawed, her presupposition that all human beings have an original “interest in truth and meaning” holds true.
Susan Wolf concludes:
“Although we may not be metaphysically responsible for ourselves—for after all, we did not create ourselves from nothing—we are morally responsible for ourselves for we are able to understand and appreciate right and wrong, and to change our character and our actions accordingly.”
As we discussed, an essential condition of being an authentic person is deep self-knowledge or self-evaluation. While authentic actions can occur spontaneously, they often stem because of internalized convictions and habits.
An important aspect of authenticity ignored in the mainstream notion is that authenticity is interlinked, as people depend on being authenticated by others.
Hence, authenticity is not just an individual but also a social ideal. The onus lies upon each individual to take ‘self-responsibility’ for an authentic life by deep self-evaluation, an eternal quest to develop one’s talents and capabilities, and seeking truth and meaning towards oneself and ‘the givenness of the world.’ It is another way of translating the adage -” Charity begins at home.” Every individual can change the world by taking charge of themselves, relating to others, and being authentic inside-out.
Final Word
Being authentic is not as simple as pop culture discourses may lead us to believe, and it is not as vague as well. Being an authentic person is a very complex, dynamic, and demanding ideal, making it an exciting challenge to undertake lifelong.

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