Most people love the idea that authenticity is a key ingredient of effective leadership. They also can’t understand the popularity of Donald Trump, the most authentic politician in the world right now. This creates a considerable cognitive dissonance: are authentic leadership theories wrong, or is The Donald destined to be the greatest president of the most powerful country on earth?
There is no doubt that authenticity is Trump’s biggest weapon. Even if he didn’t write his own speeches – and apparently he does – his delivery is always natural, to the point of dismissing the context and the stakes. In fact, Trump’s performances appear totally improvised and unpredictable (even to Trump himself).
Authenticity is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, or, shall we say, the ‘weholder’ (it is what most people see in someone else, regardless of whether they have it). There is no other way to test it. To be authentic means to seem authentic to others. That is, to come across as though you are not role playing or acting. Trump makes Obama, George W Bush and Ronald Reagan seem as scripted and artificial as the average US talk show host.