On Authenticity (Or Should Susan Boyle Lose the Frock)

April 25, 2009


Susan got a makeover. TMZ (TMZ?) is outraged, claiming the transition from “grammy to glammy” has stripped her of her “natural charm.”

The story casts Susan as the innocent object of someone else’s plotting and scheming – the risk that a patronizing Diane Sawyer warned her about on Good Morning America — but this is a women who climbed up on the biggest stage in the world to take her swing. Susan will be fine.

The reaction also speaks to our sometimes tortured relationship with the idea of authenticity. Authenticity is a leadership trait we’ve come to admire, but the pursuit of authenticity can sometimes get in the way of real leadership. When it keeps the leader at the center of the leadership story, when it directs his or her energies towards personal goals, authenticity misses the point that leadership, at its core, isn’t about us. Leadership doesn’t particularly care if we ever find ourselves. Leadership asks that we get over those selves, that we abandon many of our needs and fears and insecurities to advance a larger mission.

That mission may require losing our “natural charm.” We may be more effective by discarding the identities that worked for us in the past. Susan Boyle created a persona that thrived in a small, Scottish village. But her goals have changed radically. She now has a chance to inspire millions with her courage and audacity. If her staying power goes up with a good dye job and a leather jacket, then I’m all for it.

The Triumph of Susan Boyle

April 17, 2009


One of the assumptions at the center of this project is that there is often someone extraordinary lurking underneath the watered-down, apologetic version of ourselves that we choose to offer the world. A leader’s central task, we believe, is to create the conditions for those extraordinary selves to thrive.   

Imagining that possibility can sometimes take a leap of faith. If you ever find yourself doubting it, join the the 20 million people (and counting) who have watched Susan Boyle’s audition for Britain’s Got Talent, the UK’s version of American Idol.  In a single, transformative moment, Susan stops apologizing.