Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


Adam Grant and Brené Brown on Authenticity – Another war of titans?
June 9, 2016, 9:06 pm
Filed under: - Personal Reflections

AUTHENTICIn case you missed it this weekend, the war of words is on. Here’s where I picked it up:

  • Adam Grant published “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice”.” in the New York Times June 4 2016. There was much about this piece that resonated for me, most particularly the finale phrase, “Next time people say, “just be yourself,” stop them in their tracks. No one wants to hear everything that’s in your head. They just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth”.

Admittedly I did not critique the piece rather took what had value for me, shared it with my network on LinkedIn and moved on.

Well if “likes” and comments count for anything, as at today, Brown is winning with 5745 likes and 766 comments vs 2179 likes and 390 comments for Grant (yes it’s not a perfect proxy but it’s interesting).

[All: Adam Grant posted a reply on Brene Brown’s LI post – please see the comments below]

A little more context

Both Adam Grant and Brené Brown are established and reputable thought leaders (as far as I can tell) and authors.  Looks to me like they work in adjacent if not overlapping space.

Brené Brown also just keynoted the finale keynote at The Association of Change Management Professionals annual conference May 18 2016.  Her work resonates for me and her keynote illuminated the application of this work on shame and inadequacy in leading and managing change.  From speaking with my network I think it resonated with most of that audience.  By “resonated” I mean to say “made sense”, “felt true”, “was consistent with what I have observed and dynamics I have experienced”.

With the most recent salvos, which are likely not over, it seems they disagree on some key points.

What is going on here?

That they disagree is actually not the issue for me – though there is very rich insight to be had by reading through each of their cases (which I will probably have to do many times). I am certainly not qualified to comment on their arguments and I won’t even attempt a synopsis (seems to me that one would have to know each of their bodies of work to do justice to that) and they make their cases eloquently enough.

As a mainstream business professional, it’s tough to know what might be really going on behind the scenes here. I get it that they want / need to defend their positions and I am told that academics hold to their theses fiercely and defending them in the academic arena is something of a gladiator sport.  I hope that’s not where this is going.  While there must be value in such an approach, for me anyway, it looks more of like watching a train wreck than building of a space station.

I will hazard a guess tho that they are both “triggered”, i.e. now reacting emotionally to what appears on the surface to be an academic debate.  One has to wonder why but probably does not need to look too far.  As the face-off escalates there is more at risk: their professional reputations, credibility, standing in their professional communities, readership, followship, book sales (today and future), etc.  It has got to be hard to stay centered in the face of these stakes … and yet, this is what is called for.

Wouldn’t we all benefit, as surely they would, if they would sit down together and explore the adjacencies and overlaps of their work – explore their differences dispassionately.  Even as I write, and you read, the word “dispassionately” it seems hard to imagine that this might have been possible before the debate let alone now …

This plays out all day every day in organizations

I think about the analogy that Brené Brown shared with us at ACMP about the stories that play in our heads, ie that in a situation where we might think we have all the information we are actually only connecting the dots that we know and often in ways that the other party is not – perhaps there are different dots in their stories.  We don’t know if we don’t have the courage of an open, honest and generous conversation.

Eating your own dogfood

I don’t know Adam Grant’s work at all, beyond that post above, but I wonder if he talks about great leadership, teamwork, problem solving, etc.  Surely Brené Brown does.

Surely they could bring some of their own advice to resolving this constructively? Seems to be that there is much in the space between these two great minds that could be better because through collaboration.

From the surface it looks like trust would have to be patched up and developed gradually.  Perhaps an independent moderator could hold space for them to have a vibrant but respectful and productive conversation?

We are all human

Seems trite but this day this is what I walk away with.  Even great minds are human.

Understanding what it means to be human is what makes us more successful together.

So much opportunity ahead of us.

What do you think?

How does this play out for you? Have you followed either or both Adam Grant and Brené Brown?

Are you interested in authenticity? From what perspective? ie. are you working from your own interpretation or do you reference any particular research?

This topic, authenticity, has driven me somewhat mad for ages (past posts below) and I follow it with interest. I don’t think we have it figured out and furthermore that misinterpretations are degrading our ability to deliver change (strategy, innovation, etc by whatever name you prefer). An example would be the critical need for leaders to become the change first (to shift their own mindsets and behaviors ahead of their teams) in order to have credibility and build trust that it will work, they are committed and they will ‘cover’ their teams (hence my joy at Adam Grant’s phrase).

How do you think this plays out in our work? Seems to me that such research is critical for us to advance our work so it is essential that the research is sound and applicable.

Please do share your thoughts in the comments.  This is a learning journal for me and I appreciate your insights. I hope you get something of this exercise in working out loud.

Related Posts:

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3 Comments so far
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Nice take on this Gail. I don’t get too caught up in the academia and dogma and such and tend, as you seem to, take what value I can from different approaches. It’s an ongoing battle in change work because in order to change things one must, well, change. And where any such change might fall on the dogmatic spectrum most likely depends greatly on each of us as individuals. So as Polonius would say “To your own self be true.”

Comment by joegergen

All: Adam Grant posted a reply on Brene Brown’s LI post:

“Brené, I’ve admired your speaking and writing for quite some time. I’m sorry to see this response, as I love your call to embrace courage and imperfection. Let me clear a few things up: (1) My op-ed was not about your work– it was about the cultural concept of authenticity and research suggesting that striving to be highly authentic can hurt our careers if we’re not careful. I only quoted you for the definition because yours has been highly adopted. (2) I applaud your encouragement to be brave. I wrote my first book on generosity and my second on originality because too few of us live in fear of expressing these core values. That said, Aristotle argued that you can have too much of a virtue, not only too little. There’s a growing body of evidence that this is true for authenticity. Highly authentic employees are less likely to be promoted. And highly authentic leaders actually have *less* creative and innovative employees. You’ve urged us to set boundaries, and I want to make sure that we apply those important boundaries to authenticity too. (3) As I’ve learned from serving on the Lean In board and analyzing decades of data, the risks of authenticity are more pronounced for women than men. It saddens me deeply that we still live in such an unfair world. I think our best chance at changing it is to help women (and men) find a balance between being authentic and being effective. I’ve elaborated on these themes here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/dangers-being-authentic-adam-grant In closing, I would welcome a constructive dialogue about our points of agreement and disagreement. I’m honored that you’ve been reading my work and I’m a fan of yours.”\

Now that’s quite classy, I think.

Comment by Gail Severini

Hi Gail
“An example would be the critical need for leaders to become the change first (to shift their own mindsets and behaviors ahead of their teams) in order to have credibility and build trust that it will work, they are committed and they will ‘cover’ their teams (hence my joy at Adam Grant’s phrase).
How do you think this plays out in our work? ”

Some of the time this act of leaders becoming the change first plays out a differently in my work then the intention. Leaders can be far ahead of their teams; they have been planning for or talking about a particular change for one, or more, strategic/business/annual planning cycles. The result can sometimes show up as lack of empathy or understanding on the part of leaders. It’s not a change anymore to them, they’ve lived with it so long that it becomes normal for them and not a change. It takes a self aware leader to remember back when they didn’t support, or were unsure of a change, and help guide their team thru.

Comment by Rob Bartlett (@robbartlett)




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