Lieutenant Kaffee: “I want the truth!”
Colonel Jessup: “You can’t handle the truth!”
While it may be hard to handle at times, we all want the truth. At a human level, we want to connect with others and know that our relationships are built on honesty, openness, and trust. It’s the same expectation consumers have for businesses and students have for higher education institutions. We all want authenticity. We respect those businesses and institutions who know their purpose, vision, and mission. We believe in organizations that avoid pretense.
There is simplicity in being authentic, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Human nature, naturally, tends to be defensive. We work hard to build successful businesses and educational institutions. We lead a team of people and earn their trust and respect. We want to protect our image whether it’s personal or business. We allow the fear of what people will think, if they knew the real us, to dictate our choices and determine our behavior. Authentic leadership; however, has the opposite effect. Authentic leadership allows people to create a connection with an organization’s vision. Authentic leadership builds loyalty.
People want the truth. Students choose and enroll in higher education institutions based on their perceived reputation and the likelihood of employment after graduation. Recently, in the news, several higher education institutions have come under scrutiny accused of fraudulent marketing and business practices; however, the real issue is neither of those, it is a lack of authenticity. There is a reality, risk, and reward to being authentic.
- The Reality: It takes a conscious effort to be an authentic leader and build an authentic culture. Being authentic is not easy and requires vulnerability, exposure, and the ability to admit “I don’t know”. People want the truth. They want to know that leaders and organizations understand and can relate to life’s challenges. Students need to know that their educational institution responds to the changing marketplace and can provide them the tools they need to be successful. They expect the truth and not a clever marketing campaign.
- The Risk: Word-of-mouth continues to be the most powerful form of advertising. You can have the best Google rankings, SEO strategy, and marketing team, but without the ability to consistently deliver a quality product, one unsatisfied student or customer can have a devastating effect. It is harder to recover from a lie than it is to tell the truth. People want the truth. They want to know realistic expectations. Higher education institutions cannot promise jobs, but they can provide the knowledge and skills students need to be competitive. Students want to understand the benefits of their hard work and dedication before they commit valuable time and financial resources.
- The Reward: It is impossible to be perfect, but we should always strive for excellence. When an organization strives for excellence, they are acknowledging weaknesses and working towards developing its strengths. People want the truth. Students are not looking for a perfect institution, but they do expect an opportunity to improve their situation. Students want an institution that understands the struggles they face. They want an institution that knows who it is and what it offers because this builds loyalty. People do not follow an organization because they are perfect. People follow an organization because they admit their imperfections and work towards improvement.
Think of your favorite company, is it Apple, or maybe Starbucks? Now think about why this is your favorite company. Is it because they are perfect? Or is it because they know who they are, can admit their mistakes, and do what it takes to make it right? People, whether they are consumers, students, employers, spouses, friends, or employees, want the truth. They buy products and attend a specific institution out of loyalty. Loyalty is built on integrity. Simon Sinek says, “We make decisions based on what we know.” People want the truth.
“If you think dealing with issues like worthiness and authenticity and vulnerability are not worthwhile because there are more pressing issues, like the bottom line or attendance or standardized test scores, you are sadly, mistaken. It underpins everything.” ~ Brene Brown
How does your institution demonstrate authenticity?