Leadership Guru and Author Karissa Thacker on the 'Art of Authenticity' in Life and Work

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“The Art of Authenticity” by Dr. Karissa Thacker

We can all agree that being true to yourself and genuine is a good thing. But being an authentic leader involves more than just listening to your inner voice or making the best ethical decision.  It requires effort to get it right. Management psychologist and Wilmington resident Dr. Karissa Thacker has just published a new guide book, The Art of Authenticity, that takes readers on a path to learning effective leadership strategies by better understanding their authentic selves.  With a mix of science and storytelling, Karissa shares real examples of authentic leadership that works. Town Square Delaware sat down with Karissa to learn more about her new book.


Town Square Delaware: Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you landed in the field of workplace psychology? 

Dr.-Karissa-Thacker-The-Art-of-Authenticity-216x300Karissa Thacker: I got into the field of workplace psychology because a professor of international business became my friend and colleague. I was doing some work for him in the space of psychological testing for his consulting business.  At the time, I was a graduate student in a traditional clinical doctoral program.  UPS had just developed an airline and the corporate headquarters was in Louisville, KY, where I was a graduate student.  We landed a project there, and I wound up becoming an intern for the UPS Air Group, and my dissertation was a qualitative study about the cultural dynamics there.  It was great introduction to a whole new world through a company that was already an American icon and of course has become even more of a force through the years.  

TSD: You must be a popular dinner companion! Who wouldn’t want to learn tricks to become a more effective leader. Are you finding lots of Delaware business interest in this sector?

KT: People here in Delaware and everywhere, including internationally, are becoming more interested in human dynamics in the workplace.  The reality is that the impact of role authority is decreasing.  Millennials, in particular, are less impressed by hierarchy or position and more interested in following someone whose values and ideas they find inspiring.

You see that happening with the following that Bernie Sanders has developed.

If you step back for a moment and remember that Freud said that the two fundamental tasks of life are to love and to work, you realize that the drive to create value through work is just part of the wiring for us humans.  It is an enduring drive that was discussed in ancient philosophy way before modern psychology.

Historically, there have been clear boundaries between work and family (or to use Freud’s term ‘love’).  In 2016, those boundaries are not so clear cut.  My hypothesis is that we have a generation of people entering the workforce who want work that they love and families that they love.  That changes the game a LOT.

The industrial era was about efficiency.  There were clear boundaries between work and personal life and set hours for work.  Efficiency is no longer enough to be competitive.

We are just figuring out what does really matter in the Digital Era.  In the late 90’s, Peter Drucker prognosticated that ordinary people would need to be creative, self-determining, and figure out our own path.  It is becoming apparent that he was right but the skill set required to manage your work life in that way which is more entrepreneurial is not well developed among the vast majority of people. This book is about developing the skills and mindset to chart your own path in this brave new digital world whether your path is purely entrepreneurial, within a large organization, or some combination of the two.

TSD: The Art of Authenticity is your first book. How is “authentic leadership” different from “leadership,” and what types of people get it right? 

KT: Leadership is about getting something difficult and important done.  Authentic leadership is about getting something difficult and important done while being true to your own unique human nature and values.  Getting things that are difficult and important done is tough enough.  Authentic leadership is about the how.

So accomplishing things that are important in a community (can be business, nonprofit or any other social system) that are stretch goals AND being true the your own values at the same time constitutes authentic leadership.

Getting it right happens in moments.  Being authentic is not a straightforward trait like extroversion.  The concept of authenticity has its roots in philosophy.  Social scientists have clarified that there are at least four components in a psychological model of authenticity (self awareness, transparency, balanced processing, and an internalized moral perspective).  All four components are fairly complex skill sets in and off themselves.

I take the reader on a practical journey is which we apply the ideas of self awareness, transparency, balanced processing, and an internalized moral perspective in the context of real world pressures.  For example, self-awareness becomes selves awareness.  Self awareness allows us to think about how circumstances affect our behaviors and cause us to show up very differently in different circumstances.

TSD: What sort of science supports the value of stressing authentic leadership?

KT: I think I got ahead of myself and got into this one a bit with the four component model above.

Much of the science around authenticity in general is part of the scholarship in positive psychology.  One of the major forces in positive psychology is just north of us at U Penn with Dr. Martin Seligman.  Authenticity is a key topic in positive psychology or the science of human flourishing.

TSD: Are there questions we should all be asking ourselves that would help us determine how best we can contribute to the workplace?

KT: I think the Druker questions from the first chapter are shockingly relevant to right NOW. (I love those Druker questions!)

TSD: This is of course an election year. Is there a presidential candidate whose leadership style seems to be authentic? 

KT: Looking at others’ authenticity is a fool’s errand, in many cases, because we can’t really know.  Judging someone else’s authenticity can also be a distraction from looking at ourselves.  Also, authenticity in human behavior is more complicated than whether a Rolex or a Fendi purse is authentic. People are a little different.  That is essentially what the whole book is about.

Central to the thesis in the book is that authenticity is not an either/or thing or a straightforward trait like extroversion.  The model I put forth is that we can up our percentage of authentic moments.  Also, there is a big section in the book about how much time we spend judging the authenticity of others versus cultivating our own authenticity, which is work and requires asking tough questions like the ones above.

TSD: What do you like to do in your free time in Delaware? 

KT: The fuzzy yellow ball is central to my balance in life!!

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