Don't Confuse Political Incorrectness with Authenticity
The world hungers for authenticity.
At a time of economic uncertainty, security fears at home and abroad, and accelerating social and cultural shifts, citizens long for leaders who can make sense of, and provide clear-cut answers to, the questions borne out of our rapidly changing global landscape.
From politics to business, civil society to faith, people seem to gravitate more and more toward those they view as genuine and unscripted, those with the perceived courage to set aside talking points and speak plainly to the needs and concerns of everyday folks.
However, a desire from the public for an unscripted and "genuine" leader can often lead to simple proposals for a complex world. This is dangerous.
Societal desire for leaders who speak their minds and bare their souls is understandable. We all want to feel as though we're getting a straight deal - now more so than ever. Yet, our desire for realness has become so strong that we seem to have started conflating political incorrectness to match authenticity.
True authenticity from our leaders means having an actual and realistic plan to execute and deliver on promises. It means taking a long-term view and having a strategy, mission, and vision for how to get something done for constituents, customers, shareholders, and communities. It means being consistent, staying focused, and following through on commitments.
Yet, today, many leaders are not being authentic about promises being made. Unrealistic solutions are being offered when they have enough knowledge to know better. Candidates play for points by trying to shout the loudest or land the most crippling blow on political foes. Whereas it was once substance, shrewdness with civility, and statesmanship that connoted talent among our political class, today, anger, rudeness, vulgarity, and disrespect are worn and seen as badges of honor.
We live in a time when people demand - and social media enables - instant gratification. Citizens expect leaders to solve their problems in minutes. Bloggers move at the speed of light. Delayed response is perceived as weakness or ineptitude.
In the 24/7 news cycle, substance is an afterthought. More deliberate approaches to problem-solving and communications too often get overshadowed by bluster and bombast. This is now leading to inauthentic promises being made by leaders in an effort to appease their stakeholders and constituents.
The great irony is that, in our rush for real-ness, our thirst for sincerity, our quest to move beyond the talking points and get at something earnest, we have missed, or at least lost sight of, what real authenticity is all about.
If authenticity is something we desire, the lessons for leaders and citizens are three-fold.
First, let's get beyond the expectation that success and solutions are quick and simple. In reality, to succeed in life, we would do well to heed Malcolm Gladwell's lesson that true mastery requires 10,000 hours of practice.
That is as true in business as it is in public service. Most so-called "overnight successes" are years in the making. Most political breakthroughs are the product of pragmatic compromise forged over the course of months, and even years. Leaders need the patience to hone mastery and progress; the public needs to allow space for that to occur. It is our responsibility to do so.
Second, tactics move us forward, and serendipity creates new options. But, in the end, if one's practice is not vetted with vision and mission and rooted in long-term strategy, gains will prove temporary and leaders will do a disservice to themselves and those they serve.
For the public, there is a need to transform what is expected from business and political leaders, to allow them to set forth real strategies with lasting impact, and to understand that the rewards of strategic approaches may not show up in the next quarterly report.
Third, know your history, and surround yourself with mission-driven colleagues. A failure to do so poses a real danger to society.
We have seen and suffered from that danger time and time again throughout human history, when people were taught to fear and group themselves off from one another. And the rapid march of technology makes the weapon of division more potent and scalable than ever. Leaders and the public must work intentionally to resist the siren song of social schisms.
Inauthentic "leaders" don't have a thorough plan beyond stoking fear and preying on anger and frustration. This problem needs to be properly monitored by us, the public.
The world faces unprecedented challenges for which only true authenticity offers a cure. Some will argue that one can be authentic by truly believing in his or her words, even if those words do not provide a realistic and long term solution to a problem. This point cannot apply to the category of leaders I have in mind. Current leaders have enough information to know what can and cannot be done. To cure our ills - be they political or commercial, cultural or religious - demands more than hollow words.
From societal leaders, it demands depth, breadth, and a plan to actually get things done. From the public, it demands a patience and wisdom to look past sound-bites, to surmount the allure of diatribe, to forsake simplistic solutions, and to respect and demand the merit of thoughtful strategy.
Alan H. Fleischmann is Founder, President & CEO of Laurel Strategies, a global business advisory and strategic communications firm for Leaders, CEOs, and their C-suite.