He sat uncomfortably in a comfortable chair in front of almost 1,000 marketers while a moderator asked questions about his empire, his brand, and his plans for his video music channel, Revolt (this event occurred some time ago).
For over fifteen minutes Combs fidgeted in his chair, rubbed his palms on his high-end business suit, gave half-coherent answers, and generally looked like a fish out of water. The audience sensed it and was clearly having trouble connecting with the superstar. There was a palpable sense of discomfort and unease in the air--I found myself thinking, "For the love of Pete, will someone please help this poor guy out!"
It was at that point that Combs leaned forward in his chair, looked out at the audience, and in a heartfelt confession said:
"Look, I have to admit something to you all. This isn't what I'm used to doing. Give me a microphone and 100,000 people to perform in front of and I'm fine, but this, right here and right now, just isn't natural for me."
He then stood up, walked around, and took a few deep breaths--all to great applause. Then he sat back down in his chair, looking much more relaxed, composed, and relieved.
With the flip of a switch, Sean Combs opened himself up to his audience, was shockingly honest and vulnerable, and suddenly had the rapt attention of everyone. He connected in a way that no story of self-made success or behind-the-scenes telltale could ever do.
That's the power of authenticity.
Authentic behavior binds human beings to one another, is deeply satisfying for those conducting and receiving and reinforces self-identities and a sense of belongingness.
In fact, as human beings, we search for meaning by seeking to answer "Who am I?" and "Where do I belong?" We continually compare and contrast our present situations to our beliefs about who we are and where we belong, looking for matches and misalignments.
Matches yield meaning. As for misalignments, not so much.
Disharmonious actions, false fronts, and disingenuous behavior kill meaning.
As leaders we can promote feelings of authenticity in three ways:
1. Being where you belong.
Make sure people fit their job and the organization and that the organization and job are a good fit for them. Ensure that people are set up to succeed in their roles and that their roles speak to their talents and passions.
How do you find out if someone feels at home or at sea?
And if you've built good relationships with them, they'll tell you.
2. Being true to yourself.
Work is a vehicle through which we can share our unique talents, creativity, and creations. In so doing, we're able to give a gift to others and make an imprint. We're also giving ourselves the gift of energetic self-expression, which is nourishing, re-energizing, and reaffirms our identity.
It's meaning constructed via the materialization of our true selves.
As a leader, role-model what it looks like to bring your true self to light every day. Be true to beget true. Truth builds trust, and trust builds bonds. Bonds allow us to accomplish much more, with much more impact.
3. Conducting yourself in an authentic manner.
Imagine the opposite for a moment, to be in an inauthentic environment where disingenuous, untrustworthy, or fake behavior is the norm. The unhealthy roots of such inauthentic behavior will soon kill the tree that's trying to grow.
Moreover, the offending acts don't remain buried; disingenuous behavior has a way of revealing itself. Human instinct is strong and in tune to a lack of authenticity.
In fact, nothing is more transparent than when someone's not being transparent.
Now think of how energizing it is when you're encountering someone being genuine and honest. Why wouldn't you always seek to create that kind of energy?
You don't have to be an icon to promote authenticity--all leaders can promote the presence of the genuine self.