In our Next Fifty Years booklet, which GolinHarris published a couple of years ago, we made a few predictions. One was the US would have an African-American President in the near future. Another was that authenticity would become the coin of the realm. These two ideas intersected in a very interesting way during the recent election.
Every day the world's political and business leaders perform in front of voters, employees, stockholders, and the general public. Every word is weighed, every deed dissected – in print, on air, online, and in person. In terms of depth of scrutiny and length of exposure, no stage matches that of the American presidential election campaign, which has become a referendum on reality. After listening endlessly to what the candidates have to say, then being subjected to 24/7 interpretations by a chorus of pundits, the average American is faced with discerning what is true and what is not. Or more importantly, who is real and who isn't.
This is the realm of authenticity and it comes in all shapes and sizes. In the election of 2008, many of the candidates were authentic – at least to certain segments of the population. Hillary Clinton was a hard-working woman who understood the plight of the blue collar worker. John McCain was a war hero and a maverick. Mike Huckabee was a guitar-playing, down home guy who believed in old time religion. Sarah Palin was a small town hockey mom who loved to hunt. Barack Obama was a change agent from a diverse multicultural background.
But no matter its form, authenticity now decides. It is the fulcrum upon which trust is given, fortunes are made, and elections are won. But as our election demonstrated, it isn't enough to simple be authentic. It is how that authenticity is applied. Clinton didn't find her true voice until the primary was half over. Palin seemed “just like me” until the media discovered that she received $150,000 worth of wardrobe. McCain began his campaign on the Straight Talk Express but veered off course along the way. Obama never stopped talking about change.
In the final analysis, was the winner more real than the others? Or did he just convey his message so consistently and effectively that the voters grew comfortable with who he was?
Since we first suggested that authenticity is “permeating our culture and changing our business,” thick academic studies have been written on the importance of being authentic. That is no secret. But what remain unanswered are the logical real world questions – Where do I get it? And how do I communicate it?
Applying authenticity. That is the key to victory in our ever-changing world. Where transparency dominates. Where spin evaporates. Where you can get results – if you get real.
Fred Cook is president and CEO of GolinHarris