Leadership

Hitler was authentic

Okay, so I’m being a bit provocative today. I’ve been struggling with the idea of authenticity as it relates to leadership for some time.  There’s something about it that just makes me uncomfortable. And then a friend said, “Hitler was authentic.” Wow.

Authenticity ensures that our inner values, feelings and beliefs match our outer selves. In other words, we aren’t faking anything to fit in or to be accepted.

Authenticity is important to us as humans. We are equipped with finely tuned bullshit meters that help us tell when someone is lying to us and when they are being authentic.  We need to know that what we see is what we get when we elect a Prime Minister or a President or that we can trust that our boss says what she means. Authenticity is one way that we measure trustworthiness.

It’s great to feel that you can be yourself, without having to suppress any of your values, beliefs or personality. But if that isn’t in the best interests of your followers, your community, then perhaps authenticity becomes a tool to force your beliefs onto others. Authenticity, without a deep understanding of the needs of your followers is really just self-centredness.

Hitler was authentic. Does that make him good? Does that justify the Second World War and the murder of millions of Jews and eastern Europeans, and the enslavement of millions of others? Of course not. Authenticity alone does not a good leader make.

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9 replies »

  1. Mostly, I agree; however, my first reaction to “But if that isn’t in the best interests of your followers, your community, then perhaps authenticity becomes a tool to force your beliefs onto others. Authenticity, without a deep understanding of the needs of your followers is really just self-centredness.” was sceptical. Could you expand on what you mean? (Possibly, giving a specific example.)

    • Authenticity is the linkage between your inner beliefs, values and perceptions and how you express them outwardly. One would think that it is important to be true to yourself. But if that truth is harmful to others, then it becomes about expressing yourself at the cost of harming someonelse. Thus, you are being self-centred – more interested in your own needs than those of someonelse.

      Recently a friend shared this example with me. A young woman attended a festival that my friend organized. The young woman clearly thought of herself as “artsy”, “unconventional” and “free”. The Saturday evening was an open mic event in a very large auditorium with terrible accoustics. The young woman got up to read some of her poetry, but refused the mic, because she needed to “be free to move and express herself”. As a result, not one person in the audience could hear her. She didn’t care about the needs of her audience, she only cared that she was being “authentic” to herself. Thus, she was being self-centred.

      Hope that clarifies for you. If not, I have a handful of other examples.

      • Thank you. That partially explains what you meant: I still do not quite follow the “tool to force” part. (While e.g. “wish to force” would make sense to me, in the same context.)

        I disagree with your interpretation of “authenticity”, however. (Cf. e.g.http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/authenticity.) In particular, the part “But if that truth is harmful to others, then it becomes about expressing yourself at the cost of harming someonelse. Thus, you are being self-centred – more interested in your own needs than those of someonelse.”:

        o It is possible to be simultaneously authentic and, e.g., tactful; and authenticity does not need to lead to harm of others (even in a controversial situation)—barring the possibility that the other party is overly sensitive and unreasonable, in which case the battle is lost in advance. (Which is not in anyway to imply that hurt feelings would, as a rule, be a problem caused by the “hurtee”.)

        o Such actions need not be steeped in self-centeredness (apart from the degree that all human actions tend to be), but can also have their basis in an idelogical conviction, a wish to do good, or something similar, centered on something external.

        o Self-centeredness and authenticity are relatively independent, and if someone is self-centered and authentic there need not be a causal connection—nor a need to assume that the authenticity leads to self-centeredness, rather than the opposite.

        If we look at your example, I would hesitate to use the word “authentic” at all (and I note that you, yourself, put the word in quote marks)—and if it does apply, I do not agree with the reasoning that the “authentic” part justified the conclusion “self-centered”. On the contrary, she was self-centered and the “she only cared” part follows from the self-centeredness, leaving her authenticity (or lack thereof) outside the discussion. (Assuming that the given interpretation of her behaviours and motivations is correct: Hearing of it in the third hand, I cannot rule out that the girl just underestimated the negative effects of not using the microphone, or another “Hanlon’s razor” explanation.)

  2. I think you are misapplying the criteria of authenticity. How do you know how authentic Hitler was? He was not an authentic artist, although he had great faith in his talent. Is his ambition a sign of authenticity or the opposite? Many proselytizers seem to be trying to convince themselves as much as anybody else. If by authenticity you mean appollonian thinking, a utopianism where the means justifies the ends, then that is the crux of the issue. These people say “I am right and anything I do will be justified by future history.” Was he authentic, pathological, narcissistic? There are a lot of crazy people who are convincingly authentic.

  3. Colleen, shouldn’t you wait until you get tenure before you try and get booted off campus for making such provocative remarks.

    The only thing authentic about Hitler is that he was a sociopathic monster. (And perhaps a psychopath too although that would be letting him off too easy)

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