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When Authenticity Doesn’t Translate

authentic-authenticity1Attempts to cultivate authenticity can backfire if you are seen to project the wrong values. Authenticity has become a prized commodity, in and out of the office. At first glance, this makes perfect sense: People who are true to their own moral compass, for whom “what you see is what you get”, are inherently more predictable and trustworthy than those who act based on which way the wind is blowing.

However, some people’s authenticity is apparently valued higher than others’. Take U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who once said of her campaign, “I couldn’t do it if I didn’t passionately believe it was the right thing to do.” A textbook statement of authenticity—yet pundits have pointed to an “authenticity gap” between Mrs. Clinton and her rival for the Democratic Party nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

There appears to be more to being considered authentic—and reaping the social benefits thereof—than merely representing one’s true self to others. And if there is a secret ingredient that explains the authenticity gap, then those lacking it may actually pay a price for being true to themselves, as doing so may signal a genuine social incapacity.

My recent working paper (co-written by Laura Guillén of ESMT and Hannes Leroy of Erasmus University) finds that authenticity is recognised and rewarded when it aligns itself with the common good, as with Sen. Sanders’s fiery speeches on inequality and racism. In the public mind, authenticity is so intertwined with “prosocial” moral values that they have almost blended together. If authenticity is the enemy of mendacity, and mendacity is a great social ill, then authenticity must be socially beneficial. Anything that is not perceived as such is inauthentic, or so goes the chain of associations. This could put the circumspect Mrs. Clinton at a disadvantage in the authenticity wars.

Read more at: When Authenticity Doesn’t Translate | INSEAD Knowledge

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