A highly successful company of international management consultants called us in as part of an annual routine assessment and enhancement of the business. There was no specific problem to address. As part of our preparation for the first day with this client, which was to involve 35 of their senior partners, we spent 40 minutes engaging with their website. The standout feature for us was the extreme emphasis on integrity and any value aligned with authenticity. It felt that this was unnecessarily exaggerated. We decided to spend the day exploring where the partners individually, and where the company as a whole, were being inauthentic and fake with their clients. The immediate reaction to this was not promising. We asked the assembled group, many of whom were Oxbridge graduates, how many were married or in committed partnerships. More than 80% of those present raised their hands. So we then posed the question of how many of them were, on a regular basis, inauthentic or fake in this relationship. Every hand shot up. We expressed incredulity that they could acknowledge being inauthentic with their beloved, but never with their clients. It took several hours of painstakingly leading this group through different exercises before it became self-evident to everyone present that of course, from time to time, individual executives and the company as a whole were inauthentic or fake with a client. For this particular business, this was a major breakthrough and an important realisation. They began to see that the overemphasis on integrity and authenticity was a compensation for not being able to tolerate the possibility of being insincere, inauthentic or fake.
This dynamic can be easily seen in the identity and behaviour of individuals. If you take an individual of fundamentalist religious persuasion, the one characteristic that they cannot tolerate is doubt. So they have to assert certainty, over and over again, to eliminate all possibility of doubt. This leads to a narrow and restricted world view, with serious consequences for action and behaviour. Much of our individual, personal development work and our corporate coaching and leadership programmes have an underlying foundation and tendency to affirm the positive. This can be helpful up to a point, but invariably becomes counterproductive. It is exactly the same with any business or organisation. If we desire more integrity, then we achieve this by bringing awareness to where we are being inauthentic. If we desire more honesty, then we do this through bringing awareness to our dishonesty – not by seeking to convince ourselves and others just how honest we are.
The shadow of any organisation often contains the opposite polarity of the corporate identity that has been created and is being massaged on a daily basis. What lies beneath the surface is more powerful and dangerous than bringing it into consciousness.