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Authenticity at Work: Whose Responsibility Is It?

7th November 2014 | Robin Ryde, Lisa Sofianos

Workplace authenticity should matter to everyone, but does the responsibility for it lie with managers or individuals? Robin Ryde and Lisa Sofianos set out their philosophy.

The management task, and the responsibility that sits with the organization as a whole to support authenticity, is important. Let’s be clear that full success depends on leaders, managers and workers alike playing their role.But our position on authenticity is that responsibility for claiming it must ultimately rest with the individual.

Our philosophical perspective, to the extent that we offer one, has shades of Libertarianism. We see people as self-governing individuals who make choices and are responsible for them. Authenticity is rightly a concern for all, but it is for the individual to definite it for themselves, to strive to attain it (should they choose to), and importantly to resist giving way to the temptation that it is the job of management to furnish it for them. My authenticity sits with me, yours with you, and it is not our belief that it is anyone’s responsibility to find it or ‘fix it’ for someone else.It is for this reason that we frame the central ‘solution’ to the puzzle of authenticity as a series of freedoms- the Freedom to Operate, the Freedom to Speak and the Freedom to Actualize. These are freedoms that, as with all freedoms, need to be constructed, navigated and claimed as much as they might be given.

The Drama Triangle

Karpman’s ‘drama triangle’ provides a useful means of illustrating some of the dangers of adopting a less self-empowered position. We borrow this concept to shed a little light on our approach towards finding authenticity. The Drama Triangle, which is drawn from the field of transactional analysis, describes an observed psychological game involving three roles- the victim, the persecutor and the rescuer. All three roles are self-serving and the rescuer, for example, is more interested in adopting a position that satisfies their ego and being seen as ‘the person that rescues the victim,’ than they are in resolving the tension.Similarly the victim takes their position in justifying certain emotional needs such as needing to feel angry or ‘hard done by.’ The persecutor gets to feel safe by hurting and exerting power over others. The melodrama is dynamic and positions are frequently switched with the rescuer, for example, swapping with the persecutor and so on.

Claude Steiner illustrates the falsehood that belies each role: ‘The victim is not really as helpless as he feels, the rescuer is not really helping, and the persecutor does not really have a valid complaint.’When it comes to authenticity our aim is to break out of a cycle we see being repeated in organizations (to jump off the Drama Triangle). The cycle is one where workers and managers repeatedly find themselves assuming the roles of victim and persecutor, and they remain locked in a battle of pushing responsibility back and forth between each other. As the owner of their authenticity, it is the individual who must take primary responsibility. And of course the manager, who we might think of as being cast in the position of persecutor (which refers also to behaviours of providing pressure and coercion) is an individual too, and their authenticity belongs to them. So in practice we would expect to see both sides of the equation working furiously to make this a success because of the significant benefits arising from greater authenticity that flow to the individual(s) and the organization.

The Existentialist Argument

A final element to the philosophy that accompanies this book is our appreciation of the Existentialist argument. The Existential point of view, as articulated by people such as Camus and Sartre, is captured in part by the proposition that ‘existence precedes essence.’ What this means is that there are no pre-existing determinants of what we are as humans and what we should be. Our moral code, for example, is ours to construct. It is not something that we should take from others. The way we conduct our interactions with people or our encounters with the world are based on the choices that we make to do this. The Existentialist perspective favours the notion of a Tabula Rasa (meaning ‘blank slate,’ in Latin) when considering human understanding.We do not arrive pre-shaped, pre-destined or pre-scripted; our thinking about the purpose of our lives and how we should live our lives is fully governed by our own choices and decisions. And furthermore, the Existentialist argument moves beyond the point of our choices and our thinking, and concludes that action, which is consistent with our thinking, must then arise. If I believe it is wrong to eat meat, then I must not eat meat. If I believe a war in the Gulf is wrong I must take action. If I believe that I should be more authentic at work, then I must act on this.

The Freedoms to Be Authentic

Creating Authentic Organizations focuses on the freedoms that we have to be authentic, and this particular focus is deliberate. Some people may have a wide scope and freedom to be authentic while others will have less. The importance of centring the discussion on the freedom to be authentic rather than authenticity itself is to remain true to the philosophy set out here. Authenticity will be ‘filled up,’ by action, and freedoms will be exercised or not. In each chapter we encourage creative challenge of the boundaries of these freedoms, and we also challenge managers to play their role in facilitating authenticity, but the space that freedom offers needs to be stepped into by each and every one of us. Our hope is that this opportunity is grabbed with both hands and this leads to organizations and workplaces that exude authenticity from every pore, and in every movement made.

This is an extract from Creating Authentic Organizations: Bringing Meaning and Engagement Back to Work, by Robin Ryde and Lisa Sofianos, October 3, 2014. To order Creating Authentic Organizations at a 20% discount with no charge for UK shipping, please enter the code CAORG20 at the checkout on www.koganpage.com.

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