Authenticity amid disruption

How to keep your bearings as foundations shake

Regardless of one’s opinions on our current national state of affairs, it’s hard to dispute that we are living in chaotic times. Bombshell news stories hit around the clock, many of them challenging our mental model of what leadership is and how it operates. Disruptive technologies that seem to accelerate daily fundamentally change the way we live.

And the upheaval is not confined to Washington D.C. and Silicon Valley. It reaches into the familiar, with retirements and transitions bringing sweeping change to our local leadership picture across the private, public and civic sectors.

This is certainly not to say that change is bad. On the contrary, disruption can be exhilarating and full of promise. It is a means of moving us forward as a species.

But the sheer volume of change we face now can feel deeply unsettling. For each societal norm that comes crashing down, we are left to ponder whether what we are creating is an improvement over what we are throwing away. For each disruptive technology that has the power to improve our lives, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there is a price to pay, that there may be some valuable pieces of our humanity that are falling by the wayside.

The question of economic reorganization looms large in the backdrop of technological innovation. As we marvel at the new, we quietly wrestle with questions about where it leaves humanity, where human work fits in an age of artificial intelligence and machine learning. And even with dramatic changes locally in the leadership of key companies and institutions, we may value the productive “fresh eyes” that come with change and we may simultaneously pine for veteran leaders whose style we knew and whose credibility we could count on.

All of this amounts to an awful lot for the human brain to process. Some scientists have posited that in times of immense change, humans instinctively resort to tribalism. We circle up with those we know well, who present fewer unknowns and risks, and we focus our efforts on those people. While tribalism can be understandable, it’s also easy to see how huddling with “our own” in turbulent times can be problematic, fueling divisions instead of forging solutions that work more broadly.

So what on Earth are we to do? How can we navigate chaos while also carrying on with our careers and civic lives? One idea that seems to work: show up with authenticity. When we leave behind the phony “personal branding” approach to interaction and instead connect authentically with colleagues, neighbors and fellow citizens, we can move through the chaos and resist the temptation to be exclusive rather than inclusive in our solutions.

Authenticity means slowing down a step, listening, embracing nuance, resisting sound-bite thinking and speaking, being honest and direct communicators rather than slick ones. With authenticity as our North Star, Akron can harness the potential of change without forfeiting our greatest asset — our commitment to community.

Christine Amer Mayer is president of GAR Foundation, which awards grants to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Akron in the areas of education, economic and workforce development, arts and culture, basic needs, and nonprofit sector leadership.