While the modern antithesis of wabi-sabi would be regarded as a sleek metal or plastic, the essential characteristics of Ikea products still align with the modern: symmetrical rather than organic; rectangular rather than curved; slick and polished rather than tactile. Beyond that is the admission that the particle board that comprises Billy or Kallax does not have the authenticity or appeal of real wood. It is merely a processed (pulverized?) version of the real article.
Instead of being designed primarily for their intended use, Ikea furniture is an amalgam or a contrivance of a range of intentions and goals, cost effectiveness, convenience, mass marketability and style being the primary aspects that are integrated into the products. These are as much a part of the market appeal as the furniture's actually function. The minimalism of the furniture belies these considerations and the masterful design, but the myriad intents guiding each product's development erode the authenticity. While the deterioration of the furniture over time might charm an observer, it might also indicate a corporate mandate for decline or cost effectiveness that is not intrinsic to a comparable piece of furniture that is a product of a more artisanal mindset. These products would not foster attachment or affection, merely a tolerance based on utility and a rationale for merely replacing the product when required.
Despite my entry into this post, I wish to get to authenticity as it applies to people and the way we interact with one another, especially in leadership capacities. Authentic leadership is probably challenging because, as is the case with Billy or Kallax, a leader in an organization today has to act as a composite of functions, intentions and mission that can vary from one instance to the next. It is a challenge to retain or merely project authenticity when there are so many roles and mandates that a leader is required to perform at a given time and those complexities increase with the size and scope of the organization and the challenges that it faces. It is much easier to play the role of leader in a smaller, more intimate organization with a limited mandate than in a larger one where the org chart is requisite and the challenges faced complex and numerous. I am not certain if authentic leadership is complicated by the distance between a leader and his or her followers, but it certain requires the ability or willingness to assert that authenticity from the stage that one is on.
Despite the quest for authenticity from leaders, and the course or formulas that are intended to bring it out, there is some concern about showing that real face, especially if it exposes vulnerabilities and doubts that may result in the leader getting "eaten alive" by a team. The risk prompts many to "fake it until they make it," but ultimately it overlooks the distinction between a Billy bookcase and a leader. In the case of a bookcase, the frugality and function of an Ikea item invites a greater tolerance for a by-product of the essential ingredient rather than a more expensive, carefully crafted piece of furniture. (The bookcase, after all, is a storage unit by a romanticized name and we'd rather put the money into the books rather than the shelving.) We have more tolerance for these compromises in a bookcase than we might have with a dining room table or a hope chest.
A leader performs a far more elegant, complex and communal a task than a bookcase. With that, there is a need for a leader to connect with the original material - the heart, mind and soul that are the analog to the pine, oak or mahogany of a more enchanting piece of craftsmanship. The authenticity of a leader requires the originality of that particular self or character and its response to the individuals, situations or mission that they have had thrust upon them. Such an authenticity, detached from the limitations of formula and impersonal mandate, gives a leader the opportunity to exercise a flexibility and mindfulness that would enhance connections with his or her team and a greater understanding of the challenges that they face together and the resources that are available to address.
An approach to leadership that does not embrace or expose that authenticity risks undermining the synergy of the team or organization as the discreet components of the amalgam of missions and purposes hang together uneasily. If the is work oriented toward vague, arbitrary bottom lines or deadlines and, as is often the case, there is a sense of quarterly targets and other measureables eroding the unity and synergy of a team that is bonded by the authenticity of a leader willing to expose vulnerabilities, contradictions and second thoughts. Such authenticity can, despite the doubts, rally a team together and encourage that team to live and work more comfortably with those same realities of the self.