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Seeking authenticity, weighing up autonomy, hoping for atonement

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Seeking authenticity, weighing up autonomy, hoping for atonement

There was a point late in Barak Obama’s book Dreams from my Father where he lost my admiration and raised doubts in my mind about his authenticity. Suddenly, the impressive, logical, impassioned, dedicated, truthful, heart-felt, intelligent and undoubtedly courageous journey of his life took a turn that seemed completely out of character, and didn’t appear to fit with the man that I thought I had come to know a little. He found Christianity. Suddenly, all the qualities of clarity of observation, forensic reasoning and a deep understanding of human nature that he had exhibited throughout the previous pages evaporated as he went all gooey and emotional in the face of an undefined and vaguely recognized ‘greater power’. It was only partly the religious epiphany that disturbed me; it was the change in him that set me adrift, and caused me to doubt him. Was this a calculated move? Was he going for the ‘god vote’ that is such a big factor in American politics? Incidentally, a man who spent his formative years in Indonesia would surely have been more likely to become a Muslim. But that wouldn’t have worked, especially in a country where, just before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, 21% of Americans believed that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were one and the same, and the name ‘Obama’ is disturbingly close to ‘Osama’. So that point in the book, as far as I was concerned, began his inexorable decline into party politics, power-plays and the presidency.

Tony Blair did something similar – but after the event. When he left office, he remarkably declared that he had become a Catholic. Why he had to make his personal ‘faith’ public in the first place is a mystery, although it did help galvanize a friendship with the incoming American President, among other things. His authenticity had, of course, been called into question while he was in office, and his lack of it had eventually led to his downfall. Even so, he kept his bigger ‘faith’ – political spin – intact right through the recent parliamentary investigation into the Iraq debacle, insisting that he had done the right thing. I can only imagine that the pressures of political life had eventually got to him, and while he felt he needed to maintain a righteous public face, it was only in the privacy of the confessional that he could unburden himself of his errors without risking a roasting in the press, or worse.

Why am I mentioning all this, and how does it relate to normal business life? Well, the behaviour of those who are elected to serve us as leaders often trickles down into how we behave in business. Look at the Thatcher years, for example, and how money became god and survival of the fittest became the ruthless mantra of that era. However, political spin to achieve short-term gains through influencing public behaviour and manipulating beliefs is never sustainable. While the Bush/Rumsfeld team was laying waste to the American economy as well as Iraq and Afghanistan – with the majority support of its people – Ireland was having a boom time and everyone was happy to be on board, spurred on by a government seemingly on speed. What a shock, when it all came crashing down.

The point is that we cannot keep deferring to the apparent authenticity of others to guide our own lives. We have to build our own. Personal empowerment is the only way forward in an ever-more transparent and interconnected world. A good reputation is only won through authenticity. It can take a long time to achieve it and it can be lost in an instant if we choose to compromise. It is clear that our ‘leaders’ don’t have autonomy. To gain a following and the votes to put them in power, they choose to allow their authenticity to be chipped away; and, to hold on to power, they do deals that may fly in the face of the values that they preach and the very reasons that caused them to seek to serve

In business, the environment is changing. Much of the change is due to a growing awareness of these issues, and that a higher level of personal autonomy is increasingly within reach for more and more people. Many choose not to embrace it as it comes with responsibility and risk of exposure should authenticity be breached. Some will choose to embrace it for exactly the same reasons.

It is crucial to the success of a business that the nature of the emerging environment be understood. Directors and managers can no longer wield power just to serve their egos or the interests of their backers. The ‘boardroom boys club’ is becoming less and less relevant. Employees have diminishing value if they simply follow orders and routines. The innovators of the business are now as likely to come from rank-and-file on the shop floor as from experts, directors and financiers.

Ultimately, this appears to be a call to all of us to ‘get real’. If we don’t know what that means in terms of who we are and what we do, then maybe it’s a call to do that first, and to re-align ourselves with where we are meant to be and where we want to go – based on our true identities, values and abilities. The sooner we do this the better because, as we go through life, we embed more and more useless stuff in our psyche simply because we have no real direction and we accumulate it just because we think it may be useful some day. The search for clarity increases our confusion, and we are increasingly likely to be swayed and influenced in ways that don’t serve us, so even if we have declared our intentions, we are undermining our ability to stick with them.

You may not agree with my take on Obama (and, for the record, I still feel he is the best president that America has had in years) or Blair but, in your life, do you struggle with compromised authenticity and a lack of personal autonomy? Is any sort of atonement a real option for the odd slip or intentional wrong-doing? Do you see a way forward other than by going inside to find real answers that will reveal the real (and best!) you?

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Lewis is an artist, author, entrepreneur, inventor, marketing communications consultant and business mentor. Fuelled by creativity and driven by a passion to provide innovation, impact and influence, his career has taken in a large variety of disciplines, skills and experience across many areas of industry and the public sector. He has worked with startups, SMEs, multinationals, rock stars, legends of film, the UN, people with AIDS and many more. All this has made him at times cynical, but more than ever confident that the future is bright if we can only empower ourselves and each of us employ our unique creativity to help achieve this. Through his service - - Lewis offers a powerful four-step programme and a range of marketing communications services aimed at improvement, transformation, increased efficiency and profitability. He also runs creativity courses and courses in currency trading ( His most recent venture ( is concerned with making complex and long-winded information on websites fun and quick to understand and act upon. His first novel, Hominine - it's time to choose ( is a powerful geopolitical thriller that fictionalized popular global concerns - and then provides answers!

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  • Brilliant post Lewis! really enjoyed it. You make a good point, the problem is that I feel that a massive change could only happen in an ideal world (far from this one). I strongly agree when you mention: “…re-align ourselves with where we are meant to be and where we want to go – based on our true identities, values and abilities”. Now if I look around, the majority of the people do not know what they want or what their true values and abilities are… and that’s OK. What is not OK is never making an effort to at least find an answer to that. If they did, they would have a much higher chance of following a true (hopefully unique) identity 🙂

  • Excellent post Lewis, some real food for thought and a very interesting perspective.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Fred. I think the point is that the world may not be ideal right now, and those who are ‘in power’ (and they are not usually the ones we think they are!) can’t and won’t do it for us, so we are the ones who will build an ideal world. As you say, doing nothing is an option, but it won’t move us forward in that process. And yes, a lot of people don’t know how or where to start. That’s why I strongly encouraged Olga Sheean, my wife, to put in a proposal to Your Country Your Call, because I know she can help with that on a powerful, practical level. See

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Margaret.


  • So good I read it twice! Food for thought as always Lewis. My take on your topic is simply that if we are not true to ourselves and are given to bending our authenticity to suit everyone else, then we will eventually fall flat on our faces. If we can’t stand over our own authenticity – then what’s the point!

  • Lewis, I think you have identified in one go the exact place where a huge majority of our problems start, personal and otherwise. Fred is right when he says that massive change could only happen in an ideal world but perhaps that misses the point, surely it is what we strive for that’s important rather than whether we ever get everything we want/need. This post just raised the bar for the rest of us 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Quite so!


  • Anonymous

    I wonder if we can turn that around and say that we actually have an ideal world, but we just screw it up by not appreciating it and striving to look after us/it. Personally, I don’t think it needs huge changes, just small changes in each of us, that we can all make if we want to. I’m hugely optimistic!

  • So I told you I would comment here and you may be sorry! LOL
    Authenticity is tough and most can’t sustain it. Why? I think largely because we do change our minds and it is about perception. Now, after that little spiel let me say this, I’m rather annoyed of late with the very many books by people who have so-called reputation about things they know nothing about but are considered experts on. Engagement is one of those things. Authenticity is another.
    Without naming names, just yesterday I saw a post. When I got to the bottom the statement by one of these self proclaimed experts, stated and I quote, “I Tweet, therefore I am…part of a larger movement to expand awareness, literacy and connections that escalate causes and conversations that are greater than, but still complement, my purpose for engaging online.” To which I replied, and this is another quote, “Engagement is a critical piece of the online experience if your goal is to impact and be imapcted by the lives of the masses. If it is to impact the lives of only those you hold in your closest circle, you only need to use a phone – then, you become less than authentic even if you have perceived authority”.
    Part of authenticity is showing vulnerability. Owning your ambivalence, accepting you don’t have all the answers, sticking to your guns when you believe you have made a good choice, all of these things speak to your character and go a long ways to proving authenticity. But there is something else. You have to also be willing to admit frailty, that is to say accept that you don’t have all the answers and be willing to seek them out in the circumstances that require it.
    As for autonomy, I think it’s more difficult than many would expect. When you spend years inside a relationship you take on the characteristics of the person you live in close proximity to. Such is the case for a society as well. Americans are a good example because they are so LOUD about it, and I know this because I am American 🙂
    Living in a relationship, even a collective one like a nation, we need to consider just what our value system really is and whether or not it is like all others surrounding. Just as you do in a marriage or long-term partnership, you will not always agree, and you need to feel you have the ability to speak your mind – not tying yourself to the opinionated belief that you know best, but having an opinion that accepts someone may prove you wrong or offer alternatives.
    Wow! I probably should have just written a blogpost in response! 🙂 Anyway, I’m headed out for a couple days. We can talk when I get back if you are interested. Certainly thought provoking here.I appreciate the chance to really consider this sort of topic.

  • Anonymous

    Super Post Lewis. A really enjoyable read.

  • Anonymous

    A big welcome to Sheryl from across the pond! And thanks for replying to my post. Before you run out of the door on your trip, thanks for bringing engagement and vulnerability into the mix. I think some politicians would win the hearts of a lot more people if they displayed these very human qualities. As regards this post, I think Obama has been a much better example of this than Blair, who seemed to maintain a superiority and distance through trying to portray himself as faultless. Didn’t work for me!

  • Anonymous


    Your post is written with such passion! Wow! There are so many different tacks to take with this.

    Norms keep changing and perhaps they are changing more quickly with so many people using social media. One of the questions that keeps haunting me is “what is authenticity?” and “who gets to decide if I’m authentic or not?” All of us use different aspects of our personality in different situations. Does this mean that if I’m generally known as highly analytical and then act in an softer, caring sort of way, I’m less authentic?

    This question is rhetorical but I wonder how many are asking it-will you do business with me if you know I have faults or vulnerabilities? Will you still trust that I’m competent or even an expert? How far does authenticity go?

    Maybe my questions stem from an awareness that we are social animals. When you act a certain way and I want to fit in with you, I act like you. If a group of people act a certain way, it becomes part of the culture and you’re expected to fit in. Personal empowerment may be intimidating for some. Finding like-minded people makes that growth probable and we create the new culture instead of waiting for the ideal world to have the new “rules.”

  • Anonymous

    Hi Elli. I think a lot of your answers are in the questions you ask! I certainly think that this new era of social media challenges us to be real, as I mentioned in the article, but we can’t ‘be real’ as a reaction to others and how we perceive that we think we need to be. That’s just going round in a different circle. My view is that authenticity always pays off, even when it feels as if it won’t. For instance, I was once thinking of buying a course on social media from some well known ‘guru’. I was connected with him on FB, and it was only when I discovered the authentic him through his own posts that I realised that our values and ideas were poles apart. So that saved me some money and time, and I am sure he found plenty of customers who would be a lot less challenging than I would have been! Like attracts like, so in the end you’re much better off saying what you are like to make the process more efficient.

    True personal empowerment is certainly challenging if you have got into the habit of bending yourself out of shape to please others or try to fit in. And if you think about it, finding like-minded people to help you along the way is sort of self-defeating. If you want to become powerful, you probably have to go through a bit of discomfort before you emerge with that power in what is bound to be a new and different environment. It’s easier to be a personal empowerment ‘course junky’, where all the comforts and assurances are there to ensure that you are kept comfortable and don’t become powerful!

  • I have to admit I’m our accountant’s worst nightmare – have been attempting the ‘putting everything in a file/litle and often’ approach and it has been working to a point. I think we might be going back to the ‘everything in a big box and hand it to the bookkeeper’

    Good post, I found what you said about the spreadsheets interesting as that is what our current accountant has us putting the data on.

  • It’s a pain for business owners to have to keep rooting for stuff & you end up paying for it by being labelled “messy” by the acountant. Hours of futility are charged to your account & your accounts are priced accordingly. Accountants could help themselves & their clients by giving checklists to all clients though. For the record, I hate doing the books for my own business! Thanks Niall
    ~ Helen

  • Outsourcing to (or even employing) a good bookkeeper can be very cost effective. They will devote time to tracking down missing invoices, making sure you claim all your VAT back, ensure you are tax compliant, get the money in and out efficiently – no more lost weekends! This frees business owners up to work on the business – what they are best at! 
    I expect people, (even accountants), to challenge me on the spreadsheet point. Spreadsheets are commonly used, can cause serious errors, and are not giving valuable info to the client in most cases.  
    I did a lot of work with the small business unit of a big 4 accountancy firm and client spreadsheets were a nightmare. For instance – a chap who likes everything in order inserts 2 rows to pop in one missing invoice. Without boring you with a step by step – he updated the formula to add everything up. The result? All of the invoices that came before the inserted invoice were not added into totals. He used those totals to calculate his VAT payable and made an incorrect VAT return. He seriously underpaid his VAT as a result & was incredulous that he had made a mistake, because he had used a spreadsheet. He thought he had removed the potential for error…
    I won’t go on – it could be another blog post! Actually it will 🙂
    Thanks Lorna.

  • Great timely piece Helen. Spreadsheets burned me badly a couple of years ago when I was relying on them for my debtors. Indeed I was using an accs package to some degree but relying on spreadsheets too much (because I am good with them). I was so good, I missed invoicing 2 clients for work done. 1000 euro was finally retrieved the following year (because I have great clients) but I agree about relying on spreadsheets.

    Little and often, I am a firm believer, but I don’t do it!!! I leave everything for a couple of months, and then because I do have a great filing system, and am highly organised, blitz everything in half a day.

    Book-keeping, I am beginning to think it is a good idea to outsource a couple of hours a week/month, depending on the business, because like you say, it gives back valuable time to the business owner, if even just their Saturday morning

  • Some good points there Elaine  – a nice addition to the post. Thank you,
    ~ Helen

  • When I started the business I was very lucky to be introduced to an excellent accountant who is also a great business advisor. He recommended a bookkeeping software package and showed me the basics I needed to know to get started and then over time he went through it in greater detail. I would be completely lost without it.

    I am definitely going to start using lever arch files for my paperwork. At present I am putting invoices etc into files in a filing cabinet but I find over time they get mixed up and completely out of order. I receive a lot of invoices digitally but I have to admit at times I don’t save them immediately. Days later I have to trawl through my inbox looking for them. A real headache and a waste of time.

    I totally agree with your comment about speadsheets Helen. I would highly recommend a bookkeeping software package as it gives detailed information on how the business is doing at the press of a button.

    An excellent post Helen which has been added to my favourites for future reference.

  • Prashant

    Spreadsheets are no longer advisable. Even desktop accounting software is passe. The best solution for small businesses would be to go for an online accounting software like the one we offer at Zoho: Zoho Books. There are numerous benefits to move your accounting to web; you need not worry about backup, it is accessible anywhere and anytime; your accountant can just login to the service and review your transactions online and lot more.

  • The voice of experience speaks volumes! Thanks for adding to the post Mary.

  • Why, thank you 😉 ~Helen

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