Fortune Magazine has been on my regular reading list for at least the past four decades. Articles published by Fortune are generally timely, instructive, useful, thought provoking, and written by terrific authors. I attend the semiannual Fortune Growth and Leadership Summits, co-hosted by Vern Harnish and Gazelles Coaches International, where I listen to terrific speakers and network with mid-market entrepreneurs, CEO’s and other growth coaches and advisors.
Last week, Fortune published an article by Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. My takeaway from this article, and a key point with which I strongly disagree, is that In communicating with others in your organization, being authentic, is a deterrent to getting ahead. Compromising who you are as a person is more important than standing up for what you believe. A communicating style that is authentic and transparent is to be discarded in favor of just ‘blowin in the wind’, borrowing a line from the great folk musical trio Peter, Paul, and Mary.
Keeping our jobs is more important than being current and authentic, according to Professor Pfeffer. He reports that 'leaders need to be pragmatic—to say and do what is required to obtain and hold onto power and to accomplish their objectives.' In my view this type of communication behavior only prolongs the pain in organizations where employees are often uncertain and confused when they see ambiguous and compromised messaging coming from their leadership.
Authenticity is the currency of the internet. Organizations will follow their leaders, good or bad. Bad leadership will sink a company, and leadership needs to be trustworthy, honest, and predictable. People working in the organization need to be closely aligned with the culture. One or two wrong moves by leadership, or messaging that is confusing and inconsistent may cause loss of trust, and employee turnover, or loss of valuable customers.
Being authentic and transparent with others is crucial to progress with a team and essential when the business is rapidly scaling. When dealing with conflict, being clear and authentic will yield a higher quality result more rapidly. Truth is critical to building trust on a team, and trust needs to be in place before conflicts can be worked out. Dealing with the truth will absolutely get to the desired outcome more rapidly than not.
The author goes on to say that 'the ability to subordinate one’s views and feelings is a critical skill for advancing and surviving in the workplace.' If this is the default cultural state of affairs in any company, the chances of that company succeeding in the marketplace competing for customers, or for talent, is slim to none. He quotes INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra as follows: “By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that … suits our organizations’ changing needs.”
As a business growth coach, I work with many clients who have major problems in their organizations because they are not authentic, behaving instead like the Chameleon, changing colors and adapting as Professor Ibarra suggests. I suggest that if we are not sure of what we stand for, then we stand for nothing, and that is a sure recipe for disaster.