Should we be authentic or should we be sincere? Is there really a conflict between the two?

The thought is triggered by Phil Rosenzweig’s Left Brain Right Stuff: How leaders make winning decisions(Despite the run-of-the-mill-self-help-book title I found the book in another genre and league altogether).The central theme of the book is something different but one of the chapters has been exclusively dedicated to explain the difference between authenticity and sincerity.

Rosenzweig points out on another occasion that the language became ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts were foolish, but the slovenliness of our language made it easy for us to have foolish thoughts(he was quoting Orwell);I think it is important to clarify what exactly is authenticity and what exactly is sincerity and how loosely one of the terms is used.

Authenticity means authentic to the self.It is implied that the self is something unalterable with a true essence. At least for the last few decades self help books talked ad hominem about authentic selves. Steve Jobs ,Howard Schultz, Oprah Winfrey etc are considered as paragons of authenticity.It has also been suggested that their success can be attributed to the authenticity they have shown. ‘Authenticity’ became a new mantra in leadership literature. The magic pill of authenticity could solve much of the problems in personal life and organizational life.

Most of the popular self-help books make the mistake of working backwards.They find success stories, figure out if there is any commonality among them and then attribute the success to those common factors. While Malcolm Gladwell gives the magic pill of ‘deliberate practice’ some other authors give the magic pill of ‘authenticity’. While deliberate practice at least has a well defined meaning, authenticity doesn’t even have that. Was ‘Steve Jobs’ true to essence all the time? Or was he distorting reality and faking it at times?

Sincerity means sincere to the role one plays. One may have elements of racism, chauvinism, bigotry etc somewhere inside him, but as long as he behaves in the role which he is put into, the rest of the things are irrelevant.In a nutshell he doesn’t have to display his racism or chauvinism and become authentic but be sincere to the role. In personal life as well as in organizational life there comes a conflict on whether one has to be completely transparent or with-hold information for the benefit of performing his role well.A manager may have to distort the reality , may have to fake it or stretch it; a leader may have to withhold certain things from his followers if those information demotivate them in achieving the goal.

While this is natural and nothing new for many people, I used to be almost all the time on other side of the fence.It is so unnatural to be not authentic and even when I am not authentic I am disturbed for faking it.

Rosenzweig claims that western culture has always been about giving importance to sincerity rather than authenticity. With all the philosophical discussions about karma I don’t see how the ‘eastern’ philosophy has been different.Sincerity to the role rather than a journey towards the essence of self is exemplified in Krishna’s advice to Arjuna.The duty of a warrior is not overturned by any other eternal principles or biological and familial considerations.

It was Sartre who said that existence precedes the essence.The human being as such does not have any inherent identity or value but has to create it.When there is no inherent identity or value what is the point in stressing authenticity?