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Is authenticity unobtainable?

The ideal of an “authentic” organisation persists because audiences respond best to expression and actions that lack artifice (that is, that appear to occur naturally, innately).

But most organisations, and the professionals running them, are chronically incapable of acting in a manner that a typical person would regard as authentic.

Consider, as a baseline for authentic, comments from Kawerau Mayor Malcolm Campbell. His town has come to represent the nation’s methamphetamine problem. No one can doubt what he thinks.

“It’s time this country woke up to the bullshit that’s going on around here. We are trying to create jobs for young people, but then find out some don’t even turn up for job interviews because they are not clean. My message to the country is, this s**t is in your town.”

That is unfiltered expression. It is authentic feeling and experience.

There’s almost no executive in Wellington or Auckland organisations who would speak like that, especially in public. That’s because executives self-censor far more than the typical person.

They have built layers between their raw feeling and their conduct and expression among peers.

Their innate, gut-decisions must get through layers of self-doubt, second-guessing others, behavioural and attitudinal norms, educational constraints and externally imposed models.

Each of these layers is about managing the risk of being wrong. Our threat management systems kill off risky, authentic responses. More layers make it more likely that authenticity will be adjudged risky and therefore killed off.

Public relations has two ways of dealing with fearful executives who need to appear authentic:

1) strip back layers to reach the ‘real person’

2) create appearance of authenticity – which approach do you want to take?

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