Can you be authentic and still tell lies?

Yolande Coombes Psychologist, Coach & Facilitator

We are all liars! We lie to protect ourselves and to advance ourselves. We lie to avoid conflict and simply to grease the wheels of social interaction. So are any of us authentic?

Recently a group of us went to a talk on authenticity. We work in a space where we espouse authentic leadership, and we decided it would be a good stimulus for us to take an evening to explore what we mean by this overused word.

It’s not simply about telling white lies. If the truth will have a tremendous negative impact, authenticity may mean approaching it with sensitivity.

The presenter asked the audience to put up their hands if they had lied in the last 24 hours. Half the people put up their hands, and I expect the other half who didn’t were lying. It was suggested that this lack of honesty or transparency meant that we were not authentic at that moment.

It got me thinking, given that most people lie 1 to 2 times a day, does honesty equate with authenticity?

If I intend to be kind and supportive, and you ask me what I think of your hideous jumper. Perhaps my kind lie of “it’s magnificent” is authentic. I am true to my values, and my actions align with this. It’s the so-called white lie. When I post pictures on Instagram showing me smiling on a fantastic night out, but where inside I felt numb and depressed, am I lying? Am I being authentic if my intention is to show up positively?

When we suggest to teams that they should aspire to authentic leadership, common refrains are a snort of laughter followed by ‘let people see what I think of them’ or ‘lose my temper’. In some instances, the answer might actually be ‘yes’.

We can see when someone is being disingenuous, but we cannot always tell a white lie. I think it’s because of the underlying values and motivation of the person. When they behave consistently with their values, it’s a white lie; when they do not, it is disingenuity. That might be an oversimplification, but the intention does matter.

When you are clear on what you stand for and what your values are, the white lies might well be badges of your authenticity.

“Being authentic means coming from a real place within,” Padraig Hyland, CEO The Core Story. It is when our actions and words are congruent with our beliefs and values.


About the Authors

The Core Story are innovators in the transformation of business performance enabling leaders to engage hearts and minds and bring strategy to life for everybody, everyday. We are an imaginative force transforming leadership. Specialising in authentic leadership and strategy, we partner with clients to establish their strategy story and bring it alive throughout the organisation.

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