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Episode 35: The 3 Keys to Increasing Authentic Leadership with David Brown, Jr.


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We’ve often seen the word “authentic” being used to describe leaders, influencers, and personalities, especially in the time of digital media. But what does being authentic actually mean, besides being a trendy hashtag? What does authentic leadership look like and can we be more authentic leaders? 

A leadership coach and consultant with senior operations experience in several Fortune 500 companies, David Brown Jr. has uncovered revolutionary ideas on authenticity in leadership while continuing his doctoral studies at Temple University. His first book, Letters to Lucia: 8 Principles for Navigating Adversity is a product of a cathartic transformation, the philosophies of which have helped shape Brown’s ideas on authentic leadership. 

On this episode of The Corelink Solution, David Brown Jr. shares his findings on authentic leadership, after years of study and personal discovery. We discuss how authenticity is not only about “being true to one’s self,” but is a product of many factors, including environment, experience, and synergy between the intrinsic and extrinsic.

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The Full transcript

James: Welcome to another edition of The Corelink Solution. My name is James Rosseau and you’re invited to join us tonight, as we inspire you and give you some information that, hopefully, is actionable and that you’re able to really put into action immediately. One of the things we try to do is bring topics that are really apropos, and that are timely, and this is one of those topics. For those of you joining us during the Livestream, thank you for being a part of it. Feel free to ask your questions with the comments section, Facebook, or channel on Youtube, and we will do our best to get to them. 

So tonight’s topic: The Three Keys To Increasing Authentic Leadership. And you might ask, why is this a timely topic? The word “authenticity”, in and of itself, has become a highly used word over the last few years, but what does it really mean? What does it look like to see authenticity in action? The hundred and thirty thousand plus Google searches a month would suggest that many have the very same question. And so tonight, I bring you a special guest, David Brown. 

I’ve had the pleasure of being joined by David Brown, but also had the pleasure of knowing David for well over ten years. David Brown Jr. is a leading coach, consultant, and a full-time executive DBA candidate at Temple University. He has over ten years of experience as a senior operations leader in Fortune 500 companies across financial services, professional services and facilities management industries. He most recently served as Vice President, Process Excellence and Administration at Prudential Financial. His passion for operations, change management, leadership, and organizational development has made him adept at turnarounds and transformational change initiatives. Despite growing success in his career, a personal tragedy became the catalyst for David to make a professional transition that sparked a search for deeper meaning on how he could contribute to the development of leaders and organizations. David took time away from corporate America to train as a coach, while also writing his first book, Letters to Lucia: 8 Principles for Navigating Adversity. He believes that leaders can optimize the psychological and sociological impacts of change within their organizations by understanding their own authenticity and by better integrating stakeholder perspectives.

Corelink Solution audience, please join me in welcoming David Brown Jr. to the show. David, how are you, my man?

David: Good, James. How’ve you been? 

James: I’m good, I’m good. Good to see you. Turn your microphone up just a little bit if you can? If you cannot, don’t worry about it. So good to see you man. 

David: Good to see you too. It’s been awhile since we’ve gotten together face to face. I guess in the midst of our current times, this is the best we’ll do for now. 

James: Absolutely, absolutely. It would have been nice to be in person, but you’re right, this is going to have to suffice. So, I always like to start with a fun fact, if you will, something that most people may not know about David Brown Jr., which I know is going to be tough for you, because you manage your brand very carefully, but you’re going to have to open up a little bit. What would you say is something that the average person probably doesn’t know about David Brown Jr.? 

David: So most people don’t know that I used to be a really avid bowler. So I grew up bowling. Actually, I started bowling around the time that I could walk, from what I understand. Bowled through juniors and actually, bowled through college. And my biggest accomplishment was, for about six years, I held an NCAA record for the highest three game series in bowling. I sat eight forty seven. 

James: Is that right?

David: Yeah, games of two ninety, two seventy eight and two seventy nine. Thirty two out of thirty six strikes. 

James: Wow. I didn’t know that, man. Like I said, I’ve known you for over ten years. You’ve never shared that. 

David: Yeah, yeah. We met in – what – 2004. 

James: Yeah. You never shared the bowling nor the record, or anything. 

David: That’s how DP and I are connected. 

James: Aha! Okay. Good to know, good to know. So, talk about, before we jump into the depth of the topic, talk about your journey and what brings you to this point in your journey. 

David: Yeah. So, I think like most folks, I’ve had a pretty traditional life, I would say, in terms of focus on my education, trying to get ahead professionally. And I found myself in 2012, 2013, in the midst of a big transition. So, I was a senior leader at a facilities company. I had spent a lot of time in financial services. Ended up getting married after dating a girl for a short period of time. Ended up getting pregnant – she got pregnant, rather, not me. 

James: Thank you. [laughter] I’m so glad.

David: And the relationship really started to fall apart once our daughter was born in late 2012. And so, in 2013, we decided it wasn’t working. And what ended up happening was she actually left the country. She was originally from Uzbekistan. She left the country and took my eleven-month-old daughter with her. And it just completely shattered me. Really changed my life. 

James: Let me just insert a point there. I’ve heard this story before – because when you just went through, people may not get it. When you say, she left the country and took your daughter with her, this was without your permission nor acknowledgement. Correct?

David: That is correct. I literally woke up one day and she was gone. Yeah. And so, I found myself trying to figure out a way to cope. My way of coping was actually writing letters to my daughter that I would just put in a notebook. One day, I had a dream. In my dream, my daughter was a little bit older. She came to me and she sat up on my lap, she kissed me on the cheek and she said, “Everything’s going to be okay.” I woke up the next day, and literally everything had shifted. Suddenly, I started to find myself in a space of peace. I started to find that I connected to my now ex-wife, her fear in a different way and I was no longer judging her. There was a sense of forgiveness and compassion that began to emerge. But ultimately, that led to my book, Letters for Lucia, and those eight principles, I found, were really a big part of my transition. 

And so, after the book was nearing its completion – at the time, I was working in financial services. I had a big demanding job. One morning, I thought I had a heart attack. And so, thankfully, it wasn’t my heart. It was actually anxiety. I ended up going to see a therapist. The therapist, during our first session, I basically sort of had given her the background of where I was at work, what happened personally. She said, the most profound thing to me. She said, “David, somehow you’ve been able to hold your wife in this space of compassion and unconditional love, despite the fact that she’s done this to you.” She said, “Have you ever thought about doing this with your co-workers?” I was like, “Wow.” And literally, I went back to work after being on leave for a few weeks, and my experience with my manager and my peers and the environment just completely shifted. I realized I was no longer a match for that. And I felt like something so profound was happening, I actually walked away from my job. Walking away from a job, that’s when I decided to get trained as a coach. 

And fast forward, a year later, take it into 2016, I was in a Panera Bread, and a gentleman came up behind me. He was like, “Hey, is that your car?” I had a nice car at the time. And we just started making small talk.  And he asked me what I did for work, and I told him about the book and about the experience. He was an older gentleman, early 60’s. And he was telling me how he just felt really connected to the story. He wanted to understand how I was taking these principles and applying it to leaders and their development. And so, he wanted to stay connected. The only thing I really knew about him was that he had retired the year before, from a large chemical company. So I ended up reaching out to him a week later. And I found him on LinkedIn, found out that this guy reported to the CEO of this large chemical company. So he’s a really senior person. We developed a friendship and I coached him for about nine months. And after the nine months, he sat me down and he said, “David, in my thirty plus year career,” he said, “In nine months, you have essentially developed me more than all the training I had had in my thirty plus year career.” And I remember sitting there with him, and tears just started flowing down my face because I wasn’t sure if this whole thing was going to work out. You don’t just leave a big corporate job, not the job that you’ve always wanted. I stepped out on faith. And so, he had encouraged me. He said, “Have you thought about getting another degree?” I already had an MBA, done a lot of schooling. I said, “It’s not really in the cards.” And a  week later, my attorney said the exact same thing, the exact same way. And I was like, “Okay, the universe is clearly telling me something.” And so, I investigated Temple’s DBA program, Doctorate in Business Administration. Researched that. Decided to apply. Got accepted. Ran across this idea of authentic leadership, which really resonated with me, because in my coaching, I was focused on leaders’ personal selves and professional selves, and really the integrated of that. How can we be the same person independent of where we’re showing up? Right? And so, that’s how I really got connected with this whole idea of authentic leadership. 

James: That’s good. Let me ask you a question. From that time of Lucia – is that the correct pronunciation? 

David: Well, it depends on your origin. So, it could be Lu-see-a, Lu-sha, or Lu-chee-a. But I did Lucia, because it means “light.” 

James: Okay, Lucia. From the time of that unfortunate event and you realizing Lucia had been taken – I guess, was that considered kidnapping, for all intents and purposes? 

David: Yeah. Yeah, parental abduction. 

James: So, from that time to you finding this awakening if you will, right? That you needed a transition and then moving that next point in your transition, what was the elapsed time in between? I’m just curious. 

David: So, it’s interesting. In the book, I talk about the dream which happened about two weeks after the incident. And that’s when the shift really began to really show up. But then, after thirty days – actually I think it was exactly thirty days – I woke up in the middle of my sleep, and I just had this sense of wanting to forgive my wife, at the time. I wrote her an email, at like 2:30 or so in the morning, because I couldn’t go back to sleep until I really got that out of my heart. And so, I want to say that, to me, was the big turning point, and everything started to shift after that.

James: Got it. So this is not what this podcast is about, but I just think the lessons in there are so important in terms of the trauma,  the emotional trauma, the awareness in having that shift and then the points just begin to move forward. Even the point that you just mentioned, the forgiveness aspect. Forgiving someone else also releases you and allows you to move forward. Kudos to you, and thank you for sharing that. That’s important as a part of this backdrop. So now, as you start the doctoral work at Temple and this whole point around authenticity,  as you walk into this, unpack how this begins in terms of even defining authenticity and beginning the research of it. 

David: Yeah. I think you hit the nail on the head when we first started the livestream which is the word “authenticity” is ubiquitous. Right? And as you look at the research, how authenticity is defined, it’s defined in many ways, which is one of the challenges with actually researching it. Right? And so, this whole construct or the idea or concept of authentic leadership began to emerge in the late 90’s and peaked probably around the mid-2000’s. It really came from Bill George, who was the former CEO of Medtronic and Harvard Business School professor. He was focused on a solution to holding leaders more ethically accountable. Having them be more ethical and be more moral with their decision-making. And his focus was really on, is what the leader’s thinking aligned or matched to the behaviors? And so, that was sort of the beginning of this whole journey. Many academics began to jump on that bandwagon, and began to create models. But unfortunately, because there were so many different definitions of an authentic leader or authentic leadership, the theory never fully sort of crystalized into something that can actually be measured effectively. And to me, that’s what I saw as the real opportunity. My approach was, not to look at authentic leadership, but to actually deconstruct it, and let’s focus on authenticity. And how is that really defined? It’s not just the leadership thing. There’s psychology. There’s philosophy. There’s even literature. Right? So looking at how that’s defined across the board, to me, was my starting point. 

James: Okay. And as you started to approach this research, the one thing I read in some of the work you were able to share with me, is this notion that this was the first ever multi-disciplined, qualitative study on authentic leadership. Right? Maybe you can say a little bit more about, to some of us who are less academic, maybe you can say a little bit more about what that means, just so people can be grounded in this research. 

David: I’ll try not to nerd out on this. [laughter]

James: Some of the audience is fairly nerdy.

David: Yeah. So, there are a few different stages to theory development. And a lot of times when theory is in its very early stages, academics take other theories to try to explain a phenomenon. So for example, with authentic leadership, they use positive psychology as a basis to understand authentic leadership and then build around that. One of the biggest challenges with the evolution of the theory from the late 90’s to the mid-2000’s was that these were all sort of members of the business school that were studying it. And so, the idea of looking beyond the perspective of business academics, and like I said, bringing in folks from psychology, philosophy, etcetera. could be a different way of approaching, defining what does it mean to be an authentic leader. So, that’s sort of the first step. Depending on which stage of theory development you’re in, there are certain methods that are better than others. So, a lot of times, when you – for example, with COVID-19, a lot of the research, it’s a lot of quantitative stuff. And that’s because the theory around how disease spreads and things like that is pretty well understood. So we measure it quantitatively, and then we basically support our hypothesis. 

James: There are models in place that you could measure it through. 

David: That’s right. But in early theory development, you have to develop the model before you can begin to do that. And so, my qualitative approach is really focusing on understanding what are the different variables that impact authentic leadership. And then once that gets refined a couple of times, then you can create hypotheses to say, “Well, let me measure sort of the impact or the outcomes that this actually creates.”

James: Okay, got it. And so, as you start to go through this research and one, I was honored to be a part of some of this and ride along with David doing this whole process. It was fabulous. One of the things, my understanding is that – I’m going from memory, so clean me up if I go off – is that there were six points that were in place with regards to how people thought about the variables, in terms of authenticity. And you found four additional ones from your research. Is that correct?

David: Yes. I’ll sort of explain it to you.

James: Please. 

David: With all the research that was done from the late 90’s to the mid-2000’s, there have been different outcomes of authentic leadership but it’s sort of scattered because there’s not a clean model. And so, what I was able to do with my research was I was able to find support for several of those variables. There were actually one, two, three… There were seven variables that I had found support for that had been mentioned in other research. And then there are two variables that I found support for that are brand new, which will be a new contribution to the theory. 

James: Okay, great. So now, as you pull this all together, how would you – well, two-part question. One, how would you now define authenticity? And then two, what are the implications of your overall findings at this point?

David: Yeah, good question. So, first of all, if you’re in this space, a lot of times people talk about authenticity as being true to the self. That resonates with me, but I also challenge it because the question is well, what does it really mean to be true to the self? Right? There’s also an assumption, in my opinion, of awareness. But the reality is we have parts of ourselves that we’re unaware of. And so, no one really fully knows who they are. So it’s kind of impossible to be completely true to the self. So, I think about authenticity, in terms of what I’ll call two mechanisms. The first mechanism is what I call an intrinsic process. And so these are the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, emotions, values, all the internal stuff that we oftentimes are mentally sort of bumping our reality against. The second piece, which follows that, is what I call the extrinsic demonstration, and that is the outward set of actions or behaviors that follows the intrinsic process. That make sense? Okay. And so, the more aligned those two are, the higher person’s level of authenticity. The more misaligned they are or less congruent, the less authentic they are. So if you think about someone who believes something truly, and as a result, they go out and pound their chest in that belief, then they’re being authentic. But put yourself in the corporate world. How often do we have a thought, as a leader, and we choose not to act on it. So, in that environment, we are revealing less of who we are. However, it doesn’t mean that that’s not truly a part of you, because it’s a part of you in a very specific context. So, authenticity to me is not only about high versus low but any of these actions or combinations are some form of expression of who you are. 

James: Okay. Can I go back to something you said for just a moment though? Just to go back to the beginning for a second. One of the things you said is a lot of times folks define authenticity as being true to one’s self. However – and I think this is what you said – however, there’s a point where they don’t totally know themselves because there’s some lack of awareness.

David: Yes, that’s right. 

James: To a certain degree, you’re only being true to the self that you know. You may not have full access to yourself. Is that what you’re saying there?

David: That’s right. And in addition to that, you may not even be conscious of some of the things that you’re doing. We’re not conscious of every thought that we have. Yet, we may have behaviors that follow those thoughts, but the reality is it’s all true, because you’re still having a “true experience.” But regardless of whether you’re aware of it or not, it’s still happening so it’s still a part of you. Still a part of who you are. 

James: Right. Now, let’s go back to this point of the intrinsic and the – is it extrinsic?

David: Yeah. Intrinsic process, extrinsic demonstration. 

James: Okay so, intrinsic – because I was about to say internal, but intrinsic is so much deeper than internal. Like internal can get, like it’s just on the inside. Intrinsic is almost like “at the root of” right? It’s like underneath. It’s what grounds me. It is the core. It is so deep. So, your point is, to the extent that I know and have defined what is intrinsically important to me in what I want to do and to the extent that then is extrinsically demonstrated. Right? And you can match those things up, that is the definition of authenticity. 

David: Yeah. So, it’s the connection between the two. Right? But regardless of whether there’s alignment or lack of alignment, something is always happening. We are always thinking, we are always experiencing. All aspects of that experience, in my opinion, are authentic. They just exist on some sort of continuum. So everything that you’re doing is expressing who you are. What you say, how you say it, how you show up, all those are just forms of expression. So when I think about what does it mean to be authentic, it means to express the self. 

James: Got it. And you know, part of what you talked about – and if this is going to show up in the three keys, you can direct me there – but one of the things that I felt was really interesting about your research is these four variables, these four construct variables, that tend to have the most impact on authenticity. Do you want to talk about those four or will you talk about them within the three keys? 

David: No, actually it does make sense to talk about them. Actually, what I’ve done since the last time you and I connected is I’ve actually narrowed it down to three different variables. So the first is that authenticity oftentimes is context-specific. And it’s really about our perception of the context. Right? Just because you put me in a certain circumstance, like in an organization, doesn’t guarantee that I’m going to respond a certain way. It’s all about how I view it. And so, as leaders, when I think about the perception of context, not only am I talking about the environment and the shared values of the organization and the culture, but I’m also talking about my understanding of my role and my perceived power, my perceived authority. All those things impact how I’m going to show up and how authentic I’m going to be. 

The second thing, which was a new variable, which I was really surprised that it wasn’t brought up before, is fear. And that fear, a hundred percent of the time, reduces authenticity. Actually, what I’m looking at in the next study is the relationship between fear and perception of context. So, does the perception of context actually create fear versus those being two different variables and how they play with authenticity. 

And the last one, which I think is probably the most important finding is that highly authentic leaders can be catalysts for transformation. And so, what I found in my first study was that many senior leaders, they play the game for a while. And they learn how to operate in corporate America and they get ahead. And then, the folks in the study, what happened was, when they got to a certain point where there was no fear and they felt like they had true power and authority, they actually began to reveal more of themselves. And in revealing more of themselves, being more transparent, being vulnerable, being more accepting, they actually began to shift the environment and their followers changed with them. And so, what happened was these new cultures and these new climates began to emerge as a result of the leader’s level of authenticity. And to me, you can take that and you can expand that in so many ways. It’s certainly shown up in my coaching, but I can’t tell you how many organizational leaders that I’ve spoken with that are talking about their companies trying to transform. And so, they pay a lot of money to bring consultants in to develop new strategies and things like that, but in my view, the change is really one of perception or perspective. That’s what’s changing in these particular examples, which is really powerful. 

James: And you know, it’s funny because I can imagine when you’re walking into some of those, many times, not unlike one of the Gallup books that was released – I think it was last year, right – it starts with the manager. And when I think about those three variables you talked about – context, fear, and – what did you call it, shifting of – did you call it shared again?

David: Shifting of shared norms or shared experiences. 

James: Shared norms. Depending on where that person is within the leadership rung, right – and by the way, positions, titles, and hierarchy don’t necessarily change influence. So, you don’t have to be a C Suite or the CEO. You can be a leader that’s lower in the hierarchy yet still have a lot of influence, because you’re able to move around, you have some mobility, you’re able to create agreements with other folks and whatnot. And to the extent that that person is doing that, creating those agreements, helping shift the context, which I assume – and you clear me up again – I assume it’s culture and the norms in that environment, etcetera, then that plays right into the fear element. 

David: That’s right. 

James: And the fear element is, can I walk into – as an example, I’m just thinking of examples that we’ve both lived through in different companies, such as JPMorganChase – is you know, when you walk in a certain room, do I feel like, in this room, I have the safety to present any idea in any form, in any way, express my comfort with or discomfort with ideas and such that are being surfaced. Can I challenge it? Or do I have to wait until after the meeting and look for a meeting after the meeting? 

David: Right, right. [laughs] 

James: A simple example. One of the thousands we can come up with. So, okay, great. So now, what we’ve been waiting for: the three keys. Please, what’s the first key?

David: Yeah. So the first key, and I think what you’ll find is that much of this is probably counterintuitive to everything we’ve been taught. I remember, one day I woke up and I was like, “My parents have lied to me about everything.” [laughs] I’m being a bit facetious, but I realized that my reality was really constructed by what they told me was true. And as I had these different experiences, I realized that there was more to what I’d been told or what I’d believed. So, the first key is authenticity is a journey of self. To me, that’s such an important starting point because we are conditioned and taught to try to control the environment. To “go make it happen.” And the way I look at it is that the environment is simply a reflection of me. Because you can get three of us in a room, and we’re all seeing the same thing, but we’re all perceiving and interpreting it differently, because of our experience and our underlying belief. So, instead of focusing on changing the environment, focus on changing yourself. And what I use as a barometer is when I experience something and something comes up that doesn’t feel good, that gives me a moment to pause. If there are emotions that are coming up that don’t feel good to me, I try to understand the root of that. Quite frankly, a lot of that stuff (if you’ve worked with a psychologist) comes from family of origin, when we’re taught our beliefs at a very, very early age. So there’s really, really deep work in that journey, but my intro to it actually began with meditation and sort of creating that space for myself just to nurture me and to practice self-care and self-love. And I’ve just been amazed at the things that have come up for me and insights that intuitively, I was like, “Where is this showing up?” But these are things that I just begin to follow and the rest is sort of history, if you will. 

James: This is so good, on so many levels, because the journey of – I’m a huge fan of self-development, personal development, and these journeys. Two or three things I want to share really quickly. One, this ability to step back and reflect is just so important. I can’t underscore how important that is. I had a good friend call me on Saturday, Pastor Phil from Chicago. We fellowshipped in Lawndale, when we lived in Chicago a couple of years. So funny, because he asked me a question about how I was feeling, doing this whole time. And I had this answer, and he said, “Nah, man. I didn’t ask you about your psychological outlook. [laughs] Your leadership outlook? I asked you how you felt emotionally, man. How are you feeling?” And he just made me slow down. And as leaders, it is so important to slow down and take a moment of how things are making you feel and react to them. Two, actually, I talked about this a couple of weeks ago. We did a virtual summit, some good friends of mine at our mastermind group with some fabulous speakers, keynote speakers. And my talk was around this model I call SCORE, for leaders during times of unprecedented crises and such. The first two in the model talk about self-care and community care. I invite folks to really go pick up that free eBook, because if you’re a leader, one of the things that I found over twenty years of managing folks is we tend to try to drive hard and drive hard and drive hard and drive hard and drive hard. And not necessarily take a moment and pause to take care of ourselves, and highly recommend that we do that and focus a little bit more on that, and then secondarily, give our people permission to do the same. So, I invite you to pick up that ebook. So, David, thanks for unlocking that as the first key. That’s so good. What other tips would you offer folks if they say, “Look, I’m with you. I want to be more authentic. I want to have more journey to self.” Are there any particular tips that you think about in terms of the “how,” in that regard?

David: Yeah. And actually, the last few keys focus on that. So, the second key would be – it’s about openness. Openness to thoughts and ideas. We all see the world through different lenses based on our experiences, based on what we believe. My perspective is at the root of it, there’s no right or wrong. There are really just differences. And so, rather than being attached to what you believe to be true, I encourage people to explore other possibilities. Embrace them and see what shows up. See how you change, see how it makes you feel. See how you interact with others. I just found, in my experience that being more open to possibilities, everything is just sort of shifted. 

James: When you say openness, how does one – from your experience, and again, the work that you’re doing here, so great, how does one become more open? 

David: Yeah, so that’s a great question. And I’m not sure if I have a great answer, because I know, for me, one day I just woke up and said, “What other possibilities exist?” So, it’s really just a way of thinking, which actually ties to the third key, which is willingness. So, being willing to have these different thoughts, explore these different possibilities, but then also being willing to act on them and being courageous about that. Facing our fears is hard, but the reality is, more often than not, the things that we fear never really manifest. That’s why they call it false evidence appearing real. A few years ago, I developed a mantra. I was in meditation. I’ve been an avid meditator since 2011. And I saw myself running towards the edge of this cliff. It’s almost like a cartoon, like the Roadrunner in Wile E. Coyote. I’m running towards the edge of this cliff. And in that sense of stillness, as I’m watching this image unfold, I heard this voice or I had a sense. It basically was, “There will either be more road or you’ll grow more wings.” And I thought about what that means. And so, as I’m sort of watching this image unfold, I’m either flying or I’m still running. And ever since then, when it comes to me facing something that doesn’t feel good, I find myself just moving through these experiences with just a tremendous amount of grace. It’s almost like the fear just sort of dissipates. 

James: Yeah. That’s good, that’s good. So, as we kind of recap these learnings and these three keys, one, authenticity is a journey of self. And I love, again, the point you talked about because it doesn’t sound like they’re necessarily mutually exclusive. It sounds like they could be an “and.” The first point around, when we say authenticity is me being myself fully, there’s a part around this connected to this first key 

This continued journey of self, right? Finding yourself and moving towards that, part one. And then the second key of openness, and I’m just curious, as you’ve worked to become more open, same question, in terms of, have you found certain things that you’ve experimented with to be more helpful than others?

David: In terms of openness?

James: Yes.

David: Yeah, so oftentimes, when I’m sitting and reflecting on an experience, I oftentimes try to see things from another person’s point of view. Like, because oftentimes, when I’m not open it’s because someone else has a different opinion or perspective, and I’m just not willing to accept that in the moment. I’m not willing to change my position. And so, I start to think about what possibility, what other possibilities exist that is driving this person’s perspective? And again, it’s not right or wrong, it’s just different from mine. So, can I get to a point of being open and accepting another point of view or another way of seeing things?

James: Yeah, that’s good. Steve Remmel asked a great question. “Why do you define it as intrinsic process instead of intrinsic value?” 

David: That’s a great question. And what’s interesting is in some of the research literature, there is sort of a mention of internal values as sort of a pseudonym for the intrinsic process. I think about it as a process. I think about it as a process because it’s a little bit more comprehensive than just values. So I think about all the things that we can’t see or others can’t see.  So in that bucket, I include values, I include emotion, I include beliefs. All these things. So it’s a little bit more broad. That’s why I use that language. 

James: So for you, it’s almost like intrinsic ecosystems – okay, you said values, beliefs – what was the third thing you said?

David: Values, beliefs, emotions, feelings, all of the above.

James: Got it. Okay, excellent. And then, on the third and final, again, piece – willingness. So, willing to take action and do things differently. 

David: Yeah. And that’s hard for many of us, because of that whole thing called fear. Right? Fear of judgement. Fear of repercussion. I can’t tell you how many leaders that I’ve spoken with, again, have these thoughts. But they’re not sure if their actions will be acceptable. In the boardroom. Or they may look silly. These are all sort of the internal conversations that we have with ourselves, which stop us from taking action. 

James: Yeah, these are good. One of the questions I would – I’m going to hold this until – I would love to have you back when this is all completed, and when you have tested a bunch of folks. (I’m sure you’ll probably test me too.) Because the question is, how do you know when you’re operating in it at your fullest? I guess, in my mind, here’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking that – I’m pretty decent. I’m not going to say I’m great. I’m pretty decent.

David: [laughs]

James: Writing down what’s important to me on a regular basis, and going back to it and kind of shaping it up and trimming the fat, and keeping my priorities in check, and then journaling every now and then, in terms of “Am I being true to those things?” Is that a fair way to measure, so to speak, the intrinsic versus the extrinsic? 

David: Yeah. So, it’s interesting because only you will know where you are. Because of this whole intrinsic process, because it can’t be seen by a third party, an observer can’t tell you how authentic you are. Only you know. What I will tell you is that in my first study, there were some characteristics of highly authentic leaders that seem to be pretty common. So, one, the fact they were true to self, which is, again, this alignment of the intrinsic process and extrinsic demonstration. Two, they were highly accepting of themselves and of others. Three, they operated with low ego. Four, they were highly transparent. And five, they were willing to be vulnerable. And so, I would argue that if you were to determine your own level of authenticity, if those sort of five descriptors fit with you, and you feel like, in certain environments, you’re willing to act on your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs or values, then you’re highly authentic. The key to also understand is that it’s also context specific. So you can be authentic at home and not be authentic in the workplace. Or you could be authentic at church and not be authentic right when you’re hanging with your friends. So, it’s multi-dimensional, in that respect. 

James: So, that’s such a good point. Back to those three pieces you talked about – the context, the fear, and then the leader’s ability to shift the shared agreements. So, this context one, I can see this one drawing major questions from people, in terms of “How do I really impact that?” Right? If I’m in an environment where the context doesn’t feel right, and I find that I sacrifice my authenticity on a regular basis, right? What should I do? How do I move forward from that? 

David: That’s a great question. I think about people falling into three buckets at any given point in time. Because there’s always this tension between our individual authenticity and what I’ll call group or collective authenticity, as you talk about those shared agreements. And so, most of the time, we’re sitting in that tension. When we’re in certain environments where we feel more authentic, it’s because our own values, beliefs, etcetera, align to that of the environment. So, we have a feeling of being in resonance, where we feel connected to the environment. So that’s one group. The second group feels resistance in that space. And they potentially leave, and they find a new environment, one that matches them. The third group feels resistance, but they’re not willing to leave. So instead, they do what I call silently suffer. So those are individuals that – so think about being in an organization. People that aren’t really happy, but maybe they feel they can’t make as much money doing something else. So, they sort of suck it up and deal with it. So, people are sort of constantly in one of those three buckets, and in my mind, as we move from context to context, we’re constantly changing, in that regard. 

James: That’s good. That’s an excellent place to throw out. Again, it is so interesting, back to – similar to data points around employee engagement. Same points in terms of people who are really engaged versus people who are, the book called “actively disengaged,” meaning  they are ready to turn this place upside down, or as the author says, “They are actively looking to disrupt your priorities and goals. It kind of parallels what you just talked about, in terms of where leaders may be, in terms of being there, not playing and kind of wanting to resist, etcetera. So, awesome. Thank you so much for sharing these points, David. One last question as we wrap up, that I ask everyone, and even particularly now, during this time of COVID and having to shelter in or depending where you are, maybe starting to get out a little bit. What do you do on a regular basis to sharpen your saw and keep yourself attune to what’s going on? Always looking for self-development tips for our audience. 

David: Yeah. So I mentioned meditation and that is just a staple for me. You’d be amazed at how you show up and how you will connect to yourself and others when you can eliminate all the distractions. 

We are powerful beyond what we understand. And so, for me, I’m sort of constantly in that space and it’s heightened my intuition. And so, I get a sense for when to connect with people. I get a sense for when to pick up a book. I used to be a big reader, but I don’t read much anymore. But if something comes to me, and it’s like, “Yeah, okay, I should pick that up.” Then I will do that. But meditation really is the root of my own development. 

James: Got it, got it. And maybe we can do one last question before we wrap up. And if there are other questions, please throw them in. We have a few minutes. “How is authenticity affected -” oh, this is from Randi Nash – “How is authenticity affected by a person’s emotional intelligence? For example, the leader with low EQ who uses ‘I’m being authentic’ as an excuse for bad leadership behavior?”

David: Yeah. That’s a great question. Many folks would argue that higher emotional intelligence and the type of outcomes that creates are probably very similar to highly authentic leaders. But I would go back to those descriptors, of low ego, transparency, vulnerability, true to self, accepting of yourself and others. I think once you overlay that on top of something like emotional intelligence, I think you can weed out those folks that are low EQ, sort of masquerading as being authentic. Because the bad leadership behavior, by default, sort of kicks you out of that. Because you’re doing that to satisfy yourself. So, we already know it’s not low ego. It’s all about the leader and not about the greater good, not about higher purpose, etcetera, etcetera. 

James: Got it. And so, in that example, if you’re the leader who’s dealing with that person, and I know we’re going a little bit deep here, but I just want to thoroughly answer the question to the extend we can. How do you address that, if the person says that to you? “Hey David,” you’re back in your VP at Prudential. And at that time, if I remember correctly, for that prior role, you managed fifteen hundred people, right? So, let’s say this is one of your leaders who reports to you. They have two hundred and fifty people that are under your remit and your stewardship and they’re acting out bad, but they’re going, “David, I’m being authentic.” But you know it’s an EQ matter. How would you address that?

David: Yeah. So, it goes back to that tension between individual authenticity and collective authenticity. So the collective authenticity is really guided by what we agree are the values and beliefs of the collective. And so, if I’m saying, as the leader, what we value in this department or this organization is collaboration, transparency, openness, etcetera, etcetera, I would expect that leaders act in accordance with that. It is true that the leader can be authentic to themselves but not fit the environment. Right? And so, that becomes the way that I would approach that. Quite frankly, it sounds like in that example that leader’s probably not a fit. But obviously, you coach them, you give them the opportunity to try to curb the behavior, and then, if they don’t, you have to make decisions to replace them, and essentially, hopefully, bring in leaders that are more connected to the values and shared agreements that you have within your organization. 

James: Absolutely. And back to that point, you make such a good point there in terms of the collective – what do you call it, collective…?

David: Collective authenticity?

James: Collective authenticity. So, what’s so good about that term is for it to be collective, again, this is your term, not mine – I assume there has to be the process, like anything else, when you’re creating purpose, mission, vision for an organization, when you do values and culture, it needs to be a team exercise. So certainly the leader can start with it, and depending on the company makeup, whether it’s a sole proprietorship, etcetera, that may vary, but in the ideal circumstance, these things are created as a collective, so everyone owns it and feels their fingerprint in it. And as then you’re hiring people into the organization, they should be, as a part of the interview process, you’re doing a lot of sifting then to see if they line up with it. That’s your best opportunity to figure out whether they line up with that culture or not. Right?

David: You’re absolutely right. If you don’t do it as a group, what ends up happening is you end up creating a value system that’s aligned to one person. And everybody hasn’t bought into it. So that’s a great point.

James: It goes right back to your point of, then it’s hard to have the opportunity for shared agreement, right? Then this becomes one way of saying, “This is our thing, but I didn’t really give you a chance to input on our thing, so it’s really my thing, I say it’s our thing, so now you’re out.” 

David: That’s right. [laughs]

James: David, so great to catch up with you. Corelink Solution audience, thanks for joining us for the first livestream. Again, I implore you to pick up David’s book, Letters for Lucia: Eight Principles for Navigating Adversity. And again, David Brown, thank you for being here, man. 

David: Thanks for having me, James. I appreciate you, brother. 

James: Thank you. 

David: Take care.

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