The true force that attracts others is the force of the heart. Inspirational presentations are heart to heart, spirit to spirit, life to life. It’s when you share what’s in your soul that you can truly move others.--James Kouzes and Barry Posner in The Leadership Challenge: How to Keep Getting Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations
I learned an important leadership lesson this week about why authenticity is essential. I was asked to speak briefly about a successful struggle for social justice in my community to a gathering of 275 Virginians Organized in Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) leaders and volunteers.
At the dress rehearsal my colleagues pushed me to scrap what I had prepared and start with my personal story—how this experience changed me. What might have been an OK bit of teaching about how to organize people to lead change turned into something altogether more powerful and moving for the audience and for me.
Many of our story tellers in this public action were people directly affected by the injustices we work to change. I was the story teller most like the majority of the audience—white, affluent and uncertain about how willing I was to make organizing with public housing residents my priority. My role in this inspiring production was to run an action on all the people who could identify with me and this reluctance to step into these tough problems and learn from them.
This was just a 2-minute presentation so I was stunned to hear from many people later that it was the pivotal moment for them in the action. It was not just my words but what they could see--the very genuine bond I now have with the public housing resident leader as we stood side by side to tell our story. They could see themselves in me and experience for a moment the vision of VOICE bringing very different people together to work for change.
I’ve had enough leadership training to know that effective leaders are authentic. Now I better understand why. It’s not just to build credibility and win trust. When we are truly authentic, as the quote above from Kouzes and Posner observes, we are speaking from our hearts to the hearts of others. When we risk sharing our soul, we can truly move others to act.