On Authenticity & Self-Actualization Within Companies

A reverie composed on 10/11/22
Humans are inherently social creatures. It's ingrained in our DNA and long before we got rid of excessive body hair and climbed down the trees, it provided us with an evolutionary advantage. Sharing a fireplace and dividing tasks increased the chances of survival and enhanced the chances of evolutionary progress. It is the communal living that encouraged the beginnings of storytelling practices that bootstrapped imaginative processes. Through the creation of a sense of belonging the desire to contribute grew and grew, which led to more innovation and effort to provide for the collective.

The hunter-gatherers as individuals still had their roles to play and their own agency determined their place in the community. We can notice a similar pattern all across nature-from flocking to the organizational mega systems of ants.

But Then ... Humans Evolved

We've socialized towards independence from the day we are born. Our parental figures were taught to raise strong and independent self-sustaining beings, cultivating a heightened need of standing out and developing a skill of self-perseverance rather than skills of inclusion.

And so we grow up seeking skills to build up our own agency by destroying bridges and further fortifying our self-reliance, all the way to the sky... Because our parents taught us that sky is the limit. That we're special.

Some of us may at some point in life be challenged with a role of a leader, be it in a setting of school, teamwork, family, or corporate hierarchy. We were taught to see that as an empowering opportunity. It is our time to shine, we think. And time to anxiously fortify that position!

No wonder we feel and think this way. Climbing the ladder is the ideal of the capitalist society and it's been pushed down our throats for longer than we imagine.

Yet, sooner or later we become lonely inside that isolated fortress of power.

We realize that it's the people who built us up all the way here and that we'll only continue to thrive if we open up the gate and let them join, let them co-shape the ecosystem.

Leaders who come to this realization take a sudden shift and become all about culture, collaboration, and connection. Sometimes to an unhealthy level of ignoring sacred individualism and forcing the surrounding parties to attend excruciating team buildings or expecting them to thrive in open-plan offices while attending daily brainstorming sessions.

The common denominator of both scenarios is simple: human nature.

It is the unique predispositions of each leader that drives the emergence of a heightened sense of self-worth. And it is the predispositions of the individuals following that leader that can either evoke a sense of reluctance, a need to defy, or simply comply with whatever happens. The predespositions of both sides matter. It is up to the level of autenticity that each individual in the relationship actively practices which determines what happens next.
As Carol Sanford notes in her work - regenerative businesses, organizations, and communities become regenerative precisely because they lean onto the authenticity of the individual.

However... As authenticity becomes a buzzword, another danger arises.

The Self-Actualization Trap

Often times you'll notice that more and more “forward-thinking” organizations welcome their employees to set their own personal expectations, goals, and wishes. While that doesn't seem liberating in a society that not so long ago only knew bowing to the boss and doing what we were told, it's far from ideal.

As a Millenial, I and my friends who grew up together are confronted with the following critique that we hear seemingly all the time: “You are not loyal to your company.”

As the values (amongst other things) shift, it is not surprising for young people to prefer self-actualization to job loyalty (aka finding an employer “for life “). Who did naively expect millenials and gen z, who are groomed to be highly individualistic, to actualize their individuum while feeling confined?

There's another ironic trap. Even in the most modern corporations, a millenial or a gen z will soon realize that self-actualization prompts within the HR efforts do not actually bring self-actualization, but instead, widen the gap between what they are actively doing on the job and what they could have been doing outside of it. Hence the pandemic of side gigs and side hustles. Hence the rise of entrepreneurship. Hence the lack of “job loyalty”.

It happens naturally as an individual is offered to step into one's authenticity, but that authenticity doesn't match the vision of the company.

Aligned VS Misaligned Authenticity

For some companies, ladder climbing, working overtime, risking health for the KPIs, thinking only about the job 24/7, is a set of values. If they communicate that openly (together with all the job opening benefits listed in FaceBook groups, which mandatorily include free snacks and a "fu, stimulative" environment), that is authentic, isn't it? That capitalist gene is fully expressed and unapologetically enforced on all fronts.

To companies who dare being openly expploitative and rigid in the era of softening, I applaud. At least they are true to their core.

What is much more disturbing is the wave of companies who suddenly shift their narratives completely, to match the trends and to grab the attention of media who feature "human-centric" efforts (or rather their artificial brand expressions in a tangible form, i.e. mission statements and HR interviews). 

How Can Organizations Tap Into The Authenticity of an individual and use it to facilitate a space for thriving Company culture?

Here are some tips for companies, collectives, groups, and communities who wish to facilitate a healthy environment where individuals can safely express their authentic selves and use that space to reach their potential.

1) Figure out your culture. Company culture emerges naturally, but without becoming aware of its body (which culture certainly has), it just runs around untamed. By knowing yourself, you will be able to make better decisions on who could be an excellent addition to the environment.

2) Go beyond fixated culture. A healthy thriving environment has to evolve with its people. Don't expect people to fit into the mold, let them shape the mold as they evolve. 

3) Truly get to know each person involved in the company. 

4) Strive to create an environment where all people involved can co-imagine and co-create the future of the collective. Cross-pollination between departments is not chaotic nor a waste of time when done from the right place. 

5) Empower your people. Make it known that they are seen, their thoughts appreciated, their knowledge and skills needed, and their ideas considered and applied. 

6) Speak on authenticity. Sadly, many people were brought up without realizing their true worth or the dimensions of their personas. Don't even get me started on their essence. Help them nurture their authenticity so that in turn, their growth can aid the collective evolution. 
To tap into authenticity of individuals is to tap into the potential of the collective.

Only when the efforts for authenticity come from the right place, the potential for going from the quest for self-actualization to the quest of transcendence (the very top of Maslow's pyramid which is often oevrlooked). And that is where the magic, the regeneration, and the good happen.

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Masha Mazi is a business consultant specializing in brand-building and brand storytelling. Her work is a unique mix of contemporary practices (marketing, strategy, user experience, service design, learning experience design, graphic design ...), regenerative leadership, and earth-based wisdom infused with mystery (human design, pathworking, spiritual ecology, archetypal work, mythmaking, ecosomatics, and deep psychology). 

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Masha Mazi started the personal project Story Alchemist to explore the intersection of spiritual ecology, soul searching, branding and business strategy, and rewilding. 
Ⓒ Story Alchemist, a project of Maša Mazi s. p.