Monday, January 11, 2010

Association Subculture Word for 2010 - Authenticity

Like the echoes of your childhood laughter, ever after
Like the first time love urged you to take it's guidance, in silence
Like your heartbeat when you realize you're dying, but you're trying
Like the way you cry for a happy ending, ending...
I know the feeling
It is the real thing....Faith No More, The Real Thing

The Short of It
  • I may not dig new years resolutions
  • But I am intrigued by the idea of a "word(s) for the year"
  • So, I've picked a word to focus on
  • And blog about in 2010
  • One I hope to see in more association discussions
  • Authenticity
The Long of It

I've been inspired by the idea of picking a word (or series of words) to define actions to focus on in 2010. Chris Brogan has his three words picked out - ecosystems, owners and kings. Jared Goralnick of Technotheory has picked "swim." I've seen other words run across my dashboard-o'-folks-I-follow. After much reflection on what word or words I would choose for myself, and by extension this blog, to focus on in 2010 (and whether I even should) I've picked a word.


Now, although it is true I am an avid avoider of new years resolutions because I tend to see them as vain attempts to "overcome the negative" i.e., I will quit ABC, I will lose X number of pounds, etc., I see picking a theme word as a different exercise. It seems to accentuate consistent positive actions to promote an idea or concept. (Maybe it's a little Jim Collins-esque desire to experiment and see if I can get all "flywheel" with a word.) I've never done such a thing before and even though there is little doubt your dear Alice will chase other rabbits from time to time I'm going to commit to embedding that concept when and where it seems authentic to do so.  (Ha!)

Authenticity strongly resonates for me as a legitimate and fundamental aim for this blog and hopefully for our association community as a whole. This is not an unfamiliar word. Many calls for authenticity are routinely promulgated on blogs and in staff, board and committee meetings. Unfortunately, I don't see a lot more than talk when it comes to actually embracing authenticity.

Two outstanding blog posts recently caught my attention. Jeffrey Cufaude had a great post on "Speaking Our Truth"  and Joe Gerstandt did as well with The Whole Truth.  I think both posts do a fine job of identifying some of the reasons why we are marginalized into not bringing our truth and our whole selves into the work-a-day or volunteer world. Let's see what we can do to change that in 2010.

Topics I have on the horizon to blog about include authenticity in:
  • executive and board relationships
  • board and committee governance
  • membership recruitment and retention
  • professional development programming
  • legislative and regulatory activity
  • marketing and communications
  • staffing issues including support of gender identity and LGBT issues
  • workplace policy including attire and appearance
You get the point.

Authenticity is not for the faint of heart. I struggle with it just like everyone else (lots of birds flying into these glass walls today). How much is too much? What should I share and what should I keep back? Nobody is going to make this process easy for me, least of all myself.

I used to have a sign up in my office to remind me my job was not to tell the board, the staff or the volunteers what they wanted to hear, it was to tell them what they needed to hear. When you do that - you make friends and you make enemies. Ambivalence in the face of someone who is attempting to speak their truth is a rarity. However, it doesn't necessarily mean the truth teller is always "right," it just means they are reporting objective facts through a filter of their experience, best estimates and perspective. The best you can hope for is a truth teller isn't intentionally misleading anyone and has the best interests of the individual and/or organization at heart.

The other reason we have to be vigilant about marginalization and make sure we create safe spaces for people to speak their truth is because - it changes. What is true now about a situation (or about one's self) may change in the future. We are continually evolving as individuals, as teams and as organizations. What we assume is true for the moment, may lead us to feel threatened if it changes. What we assume is written in stone, can lead to the demise of our relationships, our strategic initiatives or our associations. By assuming what is true now will be true forever, can lead us to believe the worst of a person if their direction changes. We denounce them as liars from the beginning, when that may be far from reality. By assuming what is true about our organization won't change, we may miss indicators that say otherwise and miss opportunities to react or adjust as necessary to forestall difficulty, decline or collapse.

Am I advocating an anchorless amorphous purely situational based existence? Well, no. Striving for authentic stability and adjusting to inevitable changes is inherent in the dynamic tension of our entire existence.

We would hope certain things about our organization should remain stable over time. Our dedication to our core purpose, core values and our envisioned future. But if authenticity is missing from any one of those pieces we risk erosion of trust on the part of our staff, volunteer leadership and members.

We would hope certain things may remain constant about individuals over time although their expression may change. Certain beliefs and values I possess have changed as I've matured and certain things have not. I am at a point where I no longer feel it necessary to compromise quite so much.

So...authenticity it is. 2010 looks to be shaping up as an interesting year.

I know the feeling
It is the real thing
The essence of the soul

The perfect moment
That golden moment
I know you feel it too......


  1. I'm glad this is your word for 2010 as it is a topic I think about regularly and write about whenever I have something new to share.

    I'm currently struggling with how we handle it individuals' respective authenticity are clashing. When me being me might be getting in the way of you being you.

  2. Great post and an ambitious topic. Keep up the good work.

    To Jeffrey's comment about individuals' authenticity clashing. It's an interesting point, but seems like things like worldview and ego are also playing a role if one person is an obstacle to another person. Is authenticity really to blame?

    What do you think?

  3. Thanks for the comments. I agree it is actually a pretty challenging topic and we'll see how well this goes.

    @Jeffrey - I was struck by your comment about "me being me getting in the way of you being you." @Chris posed an interesting thought - "if something is in the way is that getting beyond authenticity to worldview and ego."

    I plan to ponder both the comment and the question and perhaps my reply to both will emerge in a future blog post.

    Thanks for your input....



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