Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Live Authentically by Martha Mertz

“There is a certain way of being human that is my way. I am called upon to live my life in this way, and not in imitation of anyone else’s. This gives a new importance to being true to myself. If I am not, I miss the point of my life, I miss what being human is for me. I can’t find the model to live by outside myself. I can find it only within.” Charles Taylor: The Ethics of Authenticity.

The first principle of leadership is to “live authentically”. This is about the core and substance of a person and is the base for every other principle, trait and value. It’s about acting with integrity, about being an integrated person, with all parts of life and spirit meshing and in harmony. A leader could manifest every other leadership strength and still be waving in the wind unless that leader is grounded in the bedrock of her authentic self.

Living authentically means being in touch and in tune with oneself and thus so much more capable of being in tune with others. It’s a state in which ego takes a back seat. We don’t need the stroking, the constant reaffirmation of our value, because we carry inside a solid sense of worth. Living authentically does not confer invincibility. We still take hard knocks, get shaken to our foundation, and go away feeling horrible. But if we stay true to our beliefs, even though we suffer defeats, we are not diminished.

Think about those we call leader in political office or community life, in our businesses, churches and schools. Rarely does one of them stand before us and announce, “Today I completely threw off my principles” (except of course, when caught red-handed at it). Most of the time, a leader retreats from principled living by degrees – with a little rationalization here, an uneasy compromise there, an intentional blindness to an ethical departure. Eventually, onetime standards are just a faint point in the distance. The leader still may trot them out when needed, for public display, but they’re conveniently remote from the day-to-day decisions when staying true to oneself can be unpopular, professional costly, or even dangerous.

Fortunately for us all, there’s no three-strikes-you’re-out rule for authentic living. We can fail ourselves and others in the quest to behave with integrity, then get up the next day and try to do better. ATHENA leaders make living with authenticity and integrity a lifelong pursuit. They strive to keep their consciences fine-tuned. They surround themselves with trusted intimates who will call them on their missteps and help them get back on track.

Leaders strive to live authentically because someone or something has implanted in them, (as Sister Jane Francis did in my long-ago Latin class), that personal imperative, “To thine own self be true.”

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