I had a wonderful lunch the other day with an expert in leadership known in this blog as “the Consultant”. We were talking about the idea of authenticity in leadership because I seem to be obsessed about it these days.

Authenticity is about having your inside feelings, beliefs and self match your outside.  There is a long philosophical history to the evolution of this idea. (See Andrew Potter’s great book, the Authenticity Hoax for the details).  But this is where the consultant pointed out a key flaw in this idea.

What if you are the victim of self-delusion? What if your conception of your authentic self is out of whack with how the rest of the world sees you?  For example, 90% of all professors, when asked to self-evaluate their teaching skills, rate themselves in the top 10%. 

Self-delusion holds us back from achieving what is possible. And the higher within an organization we climb, the more likely we are to be self-deluded, because people become more afraid to tell us about our blind spots.  To quote Dr. Phil, you can’t deal with a problem if you don’t acknowledge it. 

We all have some degree of self-delusion, which may lead us to pursue directions that don’t make sense.  American Idol is a classic example of how self-delusion has created a generation of star seekers without talent.  Learning about ourselves, our talents, our skills, our abilities helps us fight delusions.  We should value our friends who are brave enough to be honest with us when we’re being delusional. This courage will help us, even when we don’t always want to hear the message.


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