#202 – Model the “Word of the Year 2023”

ESSENCE: While you were paying attention to Time naming Taylor Swift their “Person of the Year”, you might have missed Merriam-Webster’s naming their “Word of the Year 2023”–Authentic.  “Authenticity”, both at a leadership and organizational level, is a key aspect of leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.  An organization pursuing faithful integrity through business a better way needs a WHY that aligns with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities, and the WHY must be more than a pretty sign on the wall–it’s WHY must be at the heart of its culture.  It must be Authentic.  Likewise, a faithful leader seeking to lead with faithful integrity must be committed to that WHY with the “integrity of heart” that characterized the leadership of King David, which requires the leader to have an identity based upon WHO they are rather than WHAT they do.  In thinking about Authenticity as it applies to faithful leaders seeking to lead with faithful integrity and to the organizations they lead, we believe it is helpful to consider four components of Authenticity: Identity, Sincerity, Consistency and Transparency.

With all the buzz about Taylor Swift being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year”, you may have missed that Merriam-Webster announced its “Word of the Year 2023”.  To be honest, we didn’t know they named a “word of the year”, but the word itself caught our attention–“Authentic”.  (If you are curious, here are the words from the last five years: 2018-“Justice”; 2019-“They”; 2020-“Pandemic”; 2021-“Vaccine”; and 2022-“Gaslighting”.)

The word caught our attention because “authenticity”, both at a leadership and organizational level, is a key aspect of leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.

The Word “Authentic”

Merriam-Webster seems to base its “Word of the Year” choice on how frequently people are searching for its definition.   They noted:

A high-volume lookup most years, authentic saw a substantial increase in 2023, driven by stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media.

Merriam-Webster points out that “authentic” has a few meanings, but the one that is important for faithful integrity is “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” In a wonderful twist, Merriam-Webster created a link between their “Word of the Year” and Time’s “Person of the Year” even before Time announced its choice.  They mention a Forbes article titled “Three Ways To Tap Into Taylor Swift’s Authenticity And Build An Eras-Like Workplace“.

We are focused on the “wholeness” character of integrity.  An organization pursuing faithful integrity through business a better way needs a WHY that aligns with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities, and the WHY of an organization pursuing faithful integrity needs to have integrity in the form of “authenticity”.  In other words, the organization’s WHY must be more than a pretty sign on the wall–it’s WHY must be at the heart of its culture.

Likewise, a faithful leader seeking to lead with faithful integrity must be committed to that WHY with the “integrity of heart” that characterized the leadership of King David, because the heart of the organization will not shift if that shift is not also occurring in the hearts of its leaders and being witnessed through the actions of the leaders–again and again.

In a devotional titled “Integrity Means You’re the Same Person in Private and in Public“, Rick Warren had three subheadings:

Integrity is wholeness. . . . Integrity is authenticity. . . . Integrity is uncorrupted motivation.

The Importance of Authenticity

The importance and significance of Authenticity in an organization’s WHY can’t be under overstated.  Perhaps the best call to Authenticity comes in the words of Jesus:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

In their book, Completing Capitalism: Heal Business to Heal the World, Bruno Roche and Jay Jakub tell about an employee survey done at the Mars Corporation:  “Employees who believe their management walks the talk of the values they espouse can (in our company culture, where this trait is highly valued) be considered to be experiencing through enhanced well-being an equivalent of a 30 percent pay increase.”  (Of course, appearing to “walk the talk” for the purpose of being able to pay less or avoid employee attrition is inauthentic and lacks integrity.)

Gallup’s 2016 report on “How Millennials Want to Work and Live” listed as its #1 “functional change” that millennials “want to work for organizations with a mission and purpose“.  Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, noted “For millennials, work must have meaning. . . . The emphasis for this generation has switched from paycheck to purpose — and so must your culture.”  We can be pretty confident that they don’t just want a sign on the wall.

The Forbes article about Taylor Swift and Authenticity of workplaces concludes:

Like the sense of realness and lack of pretension at Eras events, people want their work life to be honest and free of epistemic inconsistencies – say what you mean, mean what you say.  If it is imperative for organizations to articulate a core set of values, putting those values into practice is even more critical. 

The Rarity of Authenticity

Authenticity is so important, but it is increasingly hard to find.  Just consider:

• In our social media world, “What You See” is rarely “What You Get“.  We polish our personal images and show the world what we believe it wants to see–what it tells us it wants to see–which itself perpetuates the myths and the masks.

• When the Business Roundtable did an about-face to downplay maximizing shareholder value and stress the importance of other stakeholders, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece titled “Is There Real Virtue Behind the Business Roundtable’s Signaling?” (sadly, the authors concluded that the signatories could be just trying to pre-empt regulatory scrutiny).

• We devoted an entire post (#159-Caring for People–Heart, Hype or Hustle) to the topic of whether actions by organizations that appear to care for people are really just “hype” (when an organization’s actions or words toward caring for people are really about impressing or placating third parties such as employees, customers, vendors, owners or regulators) or “hustle” (when an organization’s actions or words toward caring for people, particularly employees, are really about hustling to attract or retain employees).   Sadly, “hype” and “hustle” are common.

As a result, many people have (rightfully) become skeptics.  Why should an employee believe an abrupt change to business a better way by their employer?  Isn’t it more likely to be a public relations/investor relations/human resources gimmick to look virtuous, caring or woke to satisfy perceived desires of owners, employees or customers?  Seth Godin captures this skepticism:

If you’ve read ten employee handbooks that say one thing when the company does another, you’re likely to not believe the eleventh one. When you hear a boss say “people before profits”, you’re likely to hold back before baring your soul and sharing your fears. “Trust me” is easy to say, especially when you mean it, but hard to hear.  Showing tends to beat telling, and it takes a very long time to earn trust when you’re running counter to culture.

Leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing is very counter-cultural.  Authenticity is critical in a culture where Authenticity is rare.

Integrity is wholeness. . . . Integrity is authenticity. . . . Integrity is uncorrupted motivation. (Rick Warren)

The Components of Authenticity

If you have been reading our posts, you know that the word Integriosity® comes from Integrity and Generosity, and one of the two Biblical “First Things” principles central to Integrity is Righteousness.  The Righteousness aspect of Integrity needs a WHY, and a WHY can only support faithful integrity through business a better way if it exhibits the “wholeness” aspect of integrity by being “authentic”.  In thinking about Authenticity as it applies to faithful leaders seeking to lead with faithful integrity and to the organizations they lead, we believe it is helpful to consider four components of Authenticity: Identity, Sincerity, Consistency and Transparency.

Authenticity of Organizations

For an organization pursuing faithful integrity through business a better way, the four components of Authenticity relate to its commitment to its bigger WHY:

• Identity:  The organization is clear about its WHY–its purpose, priorities and its values.  That means they are written down for people to see.

And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. ‘ (Habakkuk 2:2)

• Sincerity:  The WHY of the organization that is written down is actually the WHY to which its leaders are committed.  An organization that has an eloquent mission statement declaring its WHY as “to glorify God” lacks sincerity (which means it lacks Integrity) if it is actually operated on the basis of Profit as Purpose.  It is what we explained in post #079 (“Real” Culture, Purpose and Values).

• Consistency:  The organization operates consistently in accordance with its WHY.  Purpose, priorities and values are not just for when they are convenient–they are most important exactly when they are most inconvenient.  This is easier when things are going well and much more difficult when times are tough.  Seth Godin has astutely noted:

When we make a ‘just this once’ exception, we’ve already made a decision about what’s truly important. . . .  What makes it a principle is that we do it now, even though (especially though) it’s hard.

• Transparency:   The organization is clear and open about its WHY–what it wants to achieve and for what it stands.  The organization’s WHY should be understood by its owners, employees, customers, vendors and community.  They should understand it not only because they can read it, but also because they can see it.  It’s WHY is not just declared in a sign on the wall–it is reflected in the heart of the organization.

Authenticity of Faithful Leaders

One of the greatest leaders in the Bible is David, and the leadership of David is beautifully and simply summed up in Psalm 78:72:

And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.

We believe “integrity of heart” requires Authenticity.  For a faithful leader, that means:

• Identity:  The leader exemplifies a WHO identity and is clear about their commitment to the organization’s bigger WHY.  It is what we described in posts #087 (Commitment to WHO Identity) and #088 (Commitment to Bigger WHY).  Whether or not the leader decides to announce their WHO identity, they must prioritize it and live it out.  Even if not announced, it will look “different”–different in how the leader responds to ethical questions, different in how the leader responds to employee mistakes, different in how the leader guides the selection of products, the acceptance of customers and the treatment of vendors.  However, the leader must be openly and publicly committed to the identity–the bigger WHY–of the organization.

• Sincerity:  It is not enough for a leader to announce a WHO identity or alignment with the organization’s stated WHY–they must actually prioritize that identity and believe in that WHY as the ultimate WHY for the right reasons (and not just a nice marketing slogan to try to make people feel good while they are being driven through Profit as Purpose).  The leader’s mind must have been RENEWED and their heart changed.  Organizational heart-shifts require leadership heart-shifts.  As John Maxwell and Seth Godin observe, people will know and they will follow:

People emulate what they see modeled. . . . What leaders do, potential leaders around them do. What they value, their people value. The leaders’ goals become their goals. (John Maxwell)

People are watching you. They’re not listening to your words as much as they’re seeking to understand where the boundaries and the guard rails lie, because they’ve learned from experience that people who do what gets rewarded, get rewarded.  (Seth Godin)

• Consistency.  The leader must prioritize and live out a WHO identity even when it is difficult, and they must make clear through words and actions that the organization’s WHY applies to everyone, under all circumstances, all the time.  That means the Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values that drive the organization’s Re-Imagined Culture apply to the leaders, apply in little things as well as big, and apply even when it may be painful (and unprofitable).  It is at the heart of what we explored in post #089 (Commitment to Cultivating Culture).  Here are some wonderfully insightful quotes–again from Seth Godin–that illuminate Consistency:

Be clear and consistent about how we do things around here. It’s going to be a long time before people act like they own the place. After all, you own the place and you don’t even act like you do most of the time.

If you want to build a vibrant organizational culture . . . the simple rule is: the rules apply to people in power before they are applied to those without. It’s easy to rationalize the alternative, to put yourself first. After all, you’ve somehow earned the authority to make an exception for yourself. But when we avoid that temptation and expose ourselves to the rules first, obey the rules first and make the sacrifices first, our culture is more likely to stick.

A commitment, from the top, that this place is going to be different. The commitment is open-ended. It involves leading and showing up and keeping promises, for months and years into the future.

• Transparency:  A faithful leader should be honest and open about their WHO identity–the faith perspective they personally prioritize (whether shared proactively or in response to curiosity, it will help stakeholders appreciate the motivation behind the leader’s actions).  A faithful leader’s commitment to the WHY of the organization should be loud and clear–communicated through words and actions.  It should be understood by the organization’s owners, employees, customers, vendors and community.  Transparency requires being honest and open about where the organization is aligned with its WHY and where it needs more work.  Transparency also requires ensuring that those stakeholders understand how the organization’s policies and practices related to areas such as hiring, termination, discipline, compensation, ethical behavior, training, vacation, family leave, customer service, vendors, and community service relate to its WHY.

“Intentional Leadership” is one of the five key ingredients for the RE-ALIGN step of Integriosity, and a commitment to Authenticity is one of the four important aspects of Intentional Leadership required for a faithful leader to lead with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing–to lead like David with “integrity of heart”.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): OK, here is a personal confession–I’m a “Swiftie”, which means I actually cared much more about Time’s selection than Merriam-Webster’s.  I think she is a positive light in our culture.  (But as my niece Holland pointed out, I am not that big of a Swiftie, because I have no bracelets, and a BuzzFeed test confirms I am at best a 25% Swiftie.). Phew, that’s a relief–the truth is out.  After all, we are only as sick as our secrets (sorry, but I’m not yet ready to be authentic about Travis Kelce–but I hope he inspires a new song).

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