The Power of Authenticity

I often meet with a room full of executives who are strangers to each other. They often come from different lands. They assume that there are huge differences between themselves and the others in the room. They connect to each other from their heads but not their hearts.
I ask them to list three life experiences that most define who they really are. I then ask them to form groups of eight and take turns sharing their three stories. This brings a reaction of terror. I reassure them and send them out to talk.
At the end of the exercise, I ask them to answer two questions. What do the eight of you have in common? How is the group different from when you started one hour ago? In answer to the first question, they speak of common experiences around family, death, failure, success, learning and so on. They express a sense of awe in discovering that they all share the same experiences and the same core values. In answer to the second question they tell me that an hour before they were strangers, now they have deep trust for one another and feel that they could accomplish great things if they were asked.
No matter how many times I do this exercise, I am always struck by the powerful transformation that takes place. It can be explained by the fact that being transparent is transformational. Normally we see the expression of our unique self as an act of vulnerability and we avoid the expression of our most intimate feelings. It is natural to avoid that which feels dangerous. So we live in a web of superficial exchanges. When we exercise the courage to express our truest feelings, something important happens. We learn that that which is most unique about us is that which has the greatest potential for bonding us.
When we express our uniqueness others tend to listen. When we express our truest feelings, others tend to resonate with the emotional truth they are hearing. They pay great attention. They often respond by expressing their own more authentic feelings. At such moments we realize that we share the same core values and we can trust each other. The expression of the authentic self is a key to trust and transformation.
Who is the most authentic person you know at work, how do you feel about the person?
Why is authenticity transformational?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

7 comments on “The Power of Authenticity

  1. Thanks for this! I am working with people in Asia right now (and referring to CVF), and this has inspired me.

  2. Thank you. In my opinion, this should also work for other groups, not only executives from different countries. So i am happy you wrote about it and i can use it in a team development context.

  3. Thanks for sharing this exercise, Bob! When I facilitate leadership workshops, we often start with a similar “lifeline” exercise that builds rapport exceptionally fast. Next time, I’ll have to try this one. Thanks as always for sharing your insights and expertise!

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