How To Be Authentic ... on Steroids

Two separate conversations, same week.

Each chat is with a CEO who talks to me about a person that reports to him. I have been working with each of these reports.

As we talk, it is evident that each CEO desires the exact same thing for his charge.

I want him to be more authentic.

Authentic is a problematic word. Like many buzz words, we have over-used it until we’ve sucked the oxygen out of it. Let me translate. This is what, I believe, both CEOs were saying. I want him to be less polite, less cautious, play it less safe. I want to hear what he really thinks.

The same week, I hear two other CEOs address a group of senior stakeholders. I experience both of them as authentic.

They’re not slick. They avoid platitudes. When they speak I believe what they’re saying.

A good thing.

One, however, is significantly more impactful than the other. She is what I call authentic on steroids.

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She is authentic AND she creates meaning.

Meaning-making is the seemingly invisible and exponentially impactful part of a leader’s job.

I don’t just speak my truth (the authentic part). I speak it, and I take you on a mental and emotional journey that richly resonates with you (yes, meaning).

  • Meaning is invoked when I use a metaphor or tell a story. A fresh metaphor, a story well told grabs us deep down in our hearts, where we care.
  • Meaning is invoked when I ask brilliant questions. Questions that connect us to our fire, our passion.
  • Meaning is invoked when I take a conversation into universal longing. The longing to commit, the longing for community, the longing to thrive, the longing to help, the longing to be great.
  • Meaning is invoked when I use the much-abused language of leadership (respect, loyalty, trust, service, team work) and get real about what the heck I actually mean when I utter these words. As I clarify how I use these words, new meaning is revealed.
  • Meaning is invoked whenever I refer to purpose. Real purpose. Palpable purpose. Shared purpose. Not mission-statement-purpose. Not sounds-good-cliché purpose. No, deep-down human purpose.
  • Authentic is nice. A lot of babble can be very authentic. Authentic on steroids, however, is always more than nice. It is authentic talk seasoned with a heavy dose of meaning.

    Wanna be an exceptional leader? Start with authentic. Reach beyond nice. Add meaning.


    Because the meaning steroids are good for you AND everyone else