Keys to Trust: Authenticity

part 5 in a series on Building Trust

Missing Authenticity

The movie Mr. Holland’s Opus tells us a story about a struggling musician who wants nothing more than to compose a symphony heard around the world. Much like each of us, the day to day problems we face also got in the way of Mr. Holland’s dream. Settling for a position as a high school music teacher, Mr. Holland has a clear plan to save up some money and leave to compose his masterpiece. His masterpiece didn’t come to be until he began showing authenticity.

Keys to trust authenticity

When Mr. Holland’s wife becomes pregnant, he has to continue teaching, a job he absolutely hates. The sacrifices he made to support his family slowly change him. Eventually, Mr. Holland comes to love teaching when he realizes he can inspire students through music and build self confidence. When he found how to find fulfillment in where he was, the real Mr. Holland was able to continually inspire his students to find themselves, to live with authenticity.

At the end of thirty years, it was time for Mr. Holland to retire. As he realized his dream to become a famous composer never came to be, he had come to grips with the reality. When leaving the school for the last time, he heard music coming from the auditorium. Curious as to what was happening, Mr. Holland went to see what was happening. When he opened the door to the auditorium, he found the entire room filled with his students from the past thirty years. The music he heard, it was the music he wrote. The concert was his.

Embrace Who You Are

A former student delivered a speech:

“Mr Holland had a profound influence in my own life, yet I get the feeling that he considers the greater part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it that he was always working on that symphony of his, and this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr Holland isn’t rich, and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our own little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. And he would be wrong. Because I think he has achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched. And each one of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. And we are the music of your life.”

Authenticity Wins

Just as Mr. Holland used his job as a means to an end, managers in all walks of life do the same. It wasn’t until he embraced the impact he could make and found who he was and began living with authenticity that he could really make a difference. Sure, Mr. Holland could have likely went on and lived his dream, but look at the students who would have missed out on finding who they were. Sometimes we cannot reach our goals, but we never stop dreaming and working towards them.

I know I sound like a broken record but leadership is about influence and influence requires trust. Real trust is made up of several components, but authenticity is one of those components. Although many “leaders” see authenticity as a weakness, true leadership cannot exist without the followers trusting their leader.

Authenticity is about being your true self no matter what. A common definition of authenticity in the psychology domain means “living one’s life according to the needs of one’s inner being, rather than the demands of society“. The easiest way to define authenticity is being genuine and real in all things.

The main reason that authenticity is a key part of trust is the level of accountability that must be present. When building and retaining trust, high accountability keeps everyone honest, allows people to see others as human, and helps others to see the best intentions instead of a hidden agenda.

How to be Authentic

Reaching true authenticity requires self-knowledge and self-awareness. The connection to others in the form of relationships can grow because we are putting ourselves out there. To be authentic, you must be transparent and even vulnerable. Although some “leaders” believe they have to remove all vulnerability to reduce the risk of looking weak, true leaders show their confidence when they are authentic and willing to show problem areas.

  • Be self-aware

    Learn who you are and how your actions affect others. Remember, it’s living life according to your inner being. Studying emotional intelligence is a great start to becoming more authentic.

  • Be intentional

    You have to be intentional in your decision to be authentic. It can’t be fake, rather it must be an active and genuine decision. Make a plan, set goals, live life.

  • Be connected

    Build relationships to build trust. Connect with co-workers, team members, and peers to understand different people. When you are able to connect with others you begin to see life from multiple angles and better serve others.

  • Values based

    Authenticity is based on your values. Sure societal norms play a factor, but the great thing about this country, if we can have opposing views on a lot of things. Living authentically is about doing what you say you are going to do.

  • Listen

    Similar to connecting, it is crucial that authentic people be great listeners. When others are talking, be genuine, make eye contact, listen more than you talk, and ask good questions to show you’re listening and care. People want to be heard.

  • Be yourself

    It’s okay to be human. By being yourself you are giving others permission to just be themselves. Leadership sets the culture, make it a culture that promotes authenticity.

  • Practice what you preach

    If you say that something should be done a certain way, that also applies to you. Not only will you destroy all the work of being authentic, you will destroy trust. Practice what you preach.

Final Thoughts

So many of us go to work and hold on to large amounts of stress. The challenge of always trying to be something you are not contributes unnecessarily to the stress. Authentic behavior frees us of the added pressure to keep up a particular image. Accept yourself and stop worrying about other people’s opinion.

Resources on Authenticity


Keys to Trust: a series on Building Trust


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