Updated: May 8
Being authentic at work means being self-aware, unbiased in evaluating yourself, behaving in a way that aligns with your strengths and values, and being open and sincere in relationships with others. It involves embracing who you are and bringing your uniqueness forward to add value to your role in ways that only you can. When you are more authentic at work and are able to create space for others to be more authentic as well, it can lead to increased job satisfaction, improved health and well-being, stronger relationships, and more creativity and innovation.
If you'd like to get some feedback on how you're doing at 'thriving as yourself' at work, take this assessment.
I've spent most of my life exploring what 'thriving as yourself' looks like, and across different contexts, including work environments. I invite you to learn more about me and the coaching work I do, because I can help you to bring more of your authentic self to work, and to create the space for others to step more fully into themselves as well.
What Does Authenticity Mean?
Authenticity is about the truth of who one "really" is. It's a very deep exploration philosophers have been investigating for thousands of years.
Who are you, really?
There are a lot of layers, certainly. One activity I love that explores this is having an opportunity to ask this question, over and over again, in the company of different people, without them responding. People often start with the roles they play "I'm a mother, a wife, a daughter, a leader..." after time, people start to describe their values or who they are in and across those roles. "I value family, I am loving..."
Social psychologists Kernis and Goldman (2006) published a helpful framework to understand the key components of authenticity, which includes four components:
1. Self-awareness: possessing, and being motivated to increase, knowledge of and trust in one's own motives, desires, feelings, emotional states, preferences, strengths, traits, etc.
2. Unbiased processing: Objectivity and clarity in evaluating your strengths and weaknesses without defensiveness, denial or blame allows for an accurate sense of self.
3. Behavior: "Acting in ways congruent with your own values, preferences, and needs, as opposed to acting 'falsely' merely to please others or to attain rewards or avoid punishments."
4. Relational orientation: "Valuing and striving for openness, sincerity, and truthfulness in one's close relationships." Being genuine and not ‘'fake’' in one’s relationships with others.
At its core, authenticity is about living an honest and true existence. Authentic people recognize that they are a work in progress and don't apologize for being imperfect or for learning and evolving. It is about embracing who you are and expressing your individuality, beliefs, and feelings in a way that leads to positive growth, joy, and meaningful connections with those around you.
What is Authentic Leadership?
In the early 2000s, in response to dwindling trust in organizations and a readiness to prepare for a dynamic future, there was a big push for a new kind of leadership that would address this head-on.
In Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, Bill George wrote: "Authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and lead with their hearts as well as their heads. They establish long-term, meaningful relationships and have the self-discipline to get results."
George wrote in a 2007 HBR article: “Leadership has many voices. You need to be who you are, not try to emulate somebody else.”
Reflecting and unpacking your own path and lived experience helps to create more awareness of how you've got to where you are and who you've been along the way.
However, an authentic leader is not static. Because there is an ever-evolving nature to the self, an authentic leader learns, unlearns, and relearns, and is open to who they may be becoming due to the ever-evolving nature of the work itself.
Authentic leaders are not just born, they can be made. Anyone can become an authentic leader by increasing self-awareness, having a clear understanding of their values and beliefs, and taking actions and making choices that align with those values and beliefs.
11 Strategies To Be More Authentic In The Workplace
Here are some tips for being more authentic at work:
1. Identify your strengths and bring them forward
Think about what you're really good at and what you enjoy doing.
Do you love connecting people?
Are you great at solving complex problems?
Do you enjoy managing projects?
Get clear on what your biggest strengths are and get better at leveraging them in everyday situations.
An activity to try:
For one day, pick a strength of yours and focus on bringing it forward in everything you do.
Be proactive. Thoughtful. Intentional.
Notice where it flows and where it’s hard.
Notice what gets in your way or distracts you.
Observe how doing this impacts both how you experience your day as well as what outcomes result from it.
Check out this video! This can help you identify opportunities to bring your unique skills and perspective to your work.
2. Reflect on your values and bring them in, no matter how contradictory they seem
Take some time to think about what your personal and professional values are. Maybe you love new things - in your personal life, it may show up as trying new activities, going to new places, etc. At work it could show up as valuing innovation - and putting your hand up to be part of new initiatives, to join a committee, to enroll in a pilot program the company is offering. Notice if you're holding a belief that your personal values conflict with your professional image and explore that.
There are many ways to be authentic regardless of what industry or role you are in. For example, I've helped an executive who manages her company's risk portfolio be more of her funny, adventurous self at work. I've helped a leader in a macho, power-hungry corporate culture find successful ways to lead with kindness and humility. I've helped a partner in a law firm with a "serve clients around the clock" approach integrate her core value of family into her leadership practice.
Being more authentic helped these business leaders reconnect to their careers. The lawyer felt more in balance across the different parts of her life and also found she was able to connect more meaningfully with her colleagues and clients, which led to deeper partnerships all around. The humble leader felt more aligned with more integrity, giving him more energy in and out of work. The risk manager found herself enjoying meetings again, which brought a spark that led to richer discussions and increased productivity.
3. 'You'-ify your role
Move past being perfect in executing your job description and take responsibility for your unique skills and talents by starting a conversation that could maximize your time, energy, and effort at work. Start by consulting your detailed job description. You may first ask yourself how closely it represents how you actually have been spending your time at work. Go through the list of responsibilities and:
Circle the responsibilities that you love doing
Highlight the responsibilities that you’re really good at doing
Star the responsibilities that you highly dislike doing
Place an ‘x’ next to the responsibilities that you are particularly not good at doing
Notice how much (or not) of your list is marked up and any observations that come up.
Start a dialogue with your managers about specific responsibilities that you love doing and are good at and find ways to link them to serving the organization. Begin crafting your role to further step into creating a future that will expand upon this.
4. Catch yourself in ‘should’ thinking and invite in ‘could’ thinking
Become aware of areas where you get bogged down with “should" thinking that is tied to expectations and biases we may hold. When we can question them by introducing "could" thinking, we create space to challenge norms and bring in fresh thinking and ideas.
As Brene Brown states, "Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are."
Examples of should thinking*
Examples of could thinking
An executive should know how to solve the business challenges faced by the team.
What if, as an executive, you could be open to learning new ways to approach business challenges? What if you could invite the team to provide input on the challenges they are facing?
A professional should show up looking polished to meetings.
What if, as an individual committed to healthy living, you could show up to some meetings in sport gear so you can get a workout in at lunchtime?
*Examples are just general examples.
You may catch yourself looking to others for approval or surrendering to the social pressures of what you should or shouldn't do. Instead, generate fresh possibilities by following an internal compass that will allow you to bring more of what you uniquely have to offer forward.
In reality, your own set of 'shoulds' are individualized to you and your specific circumstances. If identifying your own 'shoulds' is difficult for you, you can sign up for a deep-dive leadership coaching session, and I can help you with this.
5. Get good at telling stories about mistakes you've made and failures you've been part of
When asked as a leader to share some of your experiences, it's natural to want to share stories of success where you look good. If you want to show up as authentic, here is a great way: tell a story about making a mistake and failing. Share honestly about what you were feeling at the time. Be vulnerable. Be a little self-deprecating. Reflect on learnings and how you've grown from the experience.
In addition to showing up as authentic, there are other benefits to sharing stories like this. Normalizing mistakes is important for high performance in teams because you want to maximize opportunities for learning. In cultures where people can openly discuss failures and mistakes without shame, more learning will take place (for them, and for the whole team).
6. Contribute your unique perspective in conversations, and don't apologize for it
Notice how in real-time your brain may play tricks on you, telling you all the reasons why bringing your voice in is risky. Try to identify what fear is holding you back from speaking up. Is it the fear of showing up as ignorant? Incompetent? Overly negative? Intrusive? Disrespectful?
Acknowledge the fear, and reconnect to the value your unique perspective brings.
Call on courage to speak up. Be willing to share your thoughts, feelings, and opinions with your colleagues in a respectful way. This can help to better solve complex problems you're facing, be more innovative, and show up as a stronger partner to others.
*Note, there is a time and a place to contribute your perspective which may vary based on the situation.
7. Be present
Being authentic is about 'being' - and people can feel it when you are fully present in the moment with them. When you're busy multi-tasking and juggling different tasks at the same time, any commitment you have to bring your authentic self will be pushed to the periphery. For tasks that are important to you and to your role, give 100% of your focus and attention. Be intentional in your day to determine which tasks are the priority.
For those tasks, prepare by giving yourself a few minutes beforehand to settle into the space with some deep breaths and invite yourself to be present by repeating this phrase a few times "Be here, now. I'm here now." Cut potential distractions by removing them from your surroundings and giving your fullest attention.
8. Spend more time with authentic people you know
As you've read through this post and increased your awareness about what authenticity means, who comes to mind as someone who lives and leads authentically? Write down 3-5 names. Don't worry if the people are from your personal or professional connections. Your goal is to commit to spending a little more time with them.
You are welcome to reference this post and your quest to be more authentic when you see them next. You can say something like...
"I wanted to read more about being my authentic self at work because...
As I learned more about it, I immediately thought of you because...
There was an invitation to reach out to people we know who are authentic, so here we are!"
You should then ask them questions about their own journey to be authentic, as well as any observations, fears, and things you're trying out on your own quest.
9. Seek feedback consistently
We tend to evaluate and judge others based on their observable behaviors, while we assess ourselves based on our intentions. For example, if someone shows up late to a meeting with you, you evaluate them based on this behavior. When you show up late to a meeting with your boss, you know it wasn't your intention to be late - maybe you were putting out a fire with a client project, etc, so you may not see the impact your behavior has in the same way.
It's important to have others to mirror back to you how you're showing up so that you can process your behavior in an unbiased way. Of course, the feedback you receive from others will always carry bias in it (from that person as you're receiving feedback through from their unique perspective), but it's helpful to receive it. Create open feedback channels with many different sources and practice distilling them into wiser, more impactful behaviors you can action.
10. Have honest conversations with people
In tense or awkward situations with others, it can feel easier to just avoid talking about a problem. Authentic people lean into difficult conversations with key stakeholders from a place of openness and sincerity.
To do this effectively, you'll first have to do your own work to recognize that your perspective is just that, it's your perspective and it is not THE truth (it is your truth and your experience). You'll also need to recognize that the other person has their own perspective, and their perspective is also not THE truth, but it is their truth.
The goal of an honest conversation is not to try to convince the other person of all the reasons why your perspective is the real one. The goal is to better understand their perspective. When you can better understand their perspective, and they feel heard, it will be easier to then work through the challenge objectively.
If someone comes to you for an honest conversation, and you're not ready for it (because you haven't done the above or are still feeling emotional), it is authentic to say - "I'm not ready yet. Can we please schedule a later time for this conversation."
11. Acknowledge that you're a work in progress
Remember that being authentic is not about being perfect or having all the answers. It's about being true to yourself and your values, and that is an ongoing journey. When you can express that in a way that feels genuine and respectful to those around you, you'll show up as authentic, and create the space for them to do the same.
Photo by Marcus Aurelius
5 Strategies to Encourage Others To Be More Authentic At Work
Here are some specific strategies executives can try to encourage employees to be more authentic at work and build a culture of psychological safety:
1. Lead by example
I've seen leaders get caught up in prioritizing the development of everyone else around them, without taking their own steps to grow, and it is an exhausting approach. By consistently working on the 11 strategies to bring more of your authentic self to work in the section above, you're indirectly giving everyone else permission to do the same. Working on yourself and remaining committed to your own growth is the single best way to open up space and inspire others to step up in their own way.
Think about it like this: each small action you take in your own journey is an invitation for someone else to take their own step.
2. Create a culture where different perspectives are heard
Make it clear that employees are encouraged to share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas without fear of judgment or negative repercussions. Encourage open communication and active listening. Here are some specific behaviors you may try:
In meetings, instead of asking, "Who else wants to share?" ask "Who has a different perspective than what's already been heard so far?"
Get curious about the people on your team and how they best communicate. If they are introverted, instead of putting them on the spot in meetings, encourage them to write their thoughts in an email after a meeting so you'll get their most thoughtful response.
When someone gives you feedback or disagrees with you constructively, thank them.
If you are the leader, hold back from being the first to voice your opinion in meetings so there is a larger space for discussion, instead of people anchoring on your initial thoughts.
3. Look out for and call out people's unique strengths and values
One of the key strategies to be more authentic at work is to get better at leading with your strengths. When you see someone's strengths and values being demonstrated at work, point it out to them.
By pointing out their strengths, you not only help them to see their strengths but more importantly, it reinforces them to bring their strengths forward even more.
For example, "You use humor in such a clever way and it brings people together." or
"Your summary for the analysis in that presentation was so spot on and helpful for everyone. You could see that people were lost in the numbers, and when you paused, it brought everyone to the same page." etc.
4. Observe shifts in an individual's behavior and call it out privately
People will feel encouraged to bring their whole selves to work if they feel they are seen and heard as individuals. One way to ensure people feel seen and heard is to notice shifts in peoples' behavior and to name them.
For example, if a team member is typically "on" in meetings, and you find one week they seem less engaged, get curious about it. Call them after a meeting.
"Hey, I noticed you were quieter in the meeting this morning. Did you notice that?"
It's important in these check-ins that you don't judge the behavior negatively or attach any assumptions or meaning to it. Just naming it using statements with "I saw.." or "I heard..." followed by an open question "Did you notice that?" can create space for people to open up and share honestly with you.
5. Respect people's preferences and boundaries
Some of your employees may easily open up and feel a strong need to bring their authentic selves to work. Others may compartmentalize or separate different parts of their life and may shut down if they feel you or others are intruding in their private affairs. As a leader, respect these differences and hold space for people wherever they are. Honor their preferences, while also inviting them to continue to grow, contribute and do their best work.
Read more below about understanding authenticity at work with a diversity and inclusion lens.
Creating a culture of authenticity requires ongoing effort and commitment. By encouraging openness, and growth, you can create an environment where employees feel safe to be themselves and contribute their best work.
Two NOT Authentic Behaviors To Watch Out For (but could be confused with it)
I'd just like to point out a few behaviors to watch out for because I've seen these behaviors cause confusion and destruction in teams, so please look out for these and take action to clear them up as soon as you encounter them. If you're facing a challenge in your team where an outside perspective could help you to work through it, you are welcome to book in a deep dive coaching call, where we can tackle it head on.
1. Authenticity is not sharing whatever is on your mind, unfiltered.
I was working with a manager once who said, "I can't be my true self in this team." I did some digging with the team to better understand their culture and why this manager was feeling this way.
When I spoke to his leader, she provided a concrete example:
I had a decision to make. I consulted with this manager, as well as my other direct reports. The decision I took was not the one this manager had hoped for. I explained why I made the decision and the expectation was that he, and other managers that had varying perspectives, disagree and commit. For a number of months after, anytime the topic came up in meetings, he'd voice his disagreement, roll his eyes, etc. I pointed out the impact his behavior was having and asked him to stop. He responded by saying I'm not letting him be his true self in this team because I don't let him share his opinions.
Being authentic is about speaking your truth, it's not about putting a microphone to your stream of consciousness and failing to take responsibility for its impact.
2. Authenticity is not to be used as an excuse to avoid learning or growing
When you hear yourself or others responding to feedback with something like, "That's just who I am, deal with it" it's a good indication authenticity is being used as a shield to learning something important or building a stronger partnership with someone. It's a defense mechanism.
If you can catch yourself doing it in real-time, try following up with: "Let's try that again. It seems you've hit on something here." If you realize it only after a conversation (that may not have gone well), consider reaching back out to that person and leading with: "I'm ready to hear your message now, thanks for your patience."
If it's someone else that's getting defensive to your feedback, in the moment, drop it. There is no learning happening in their defensiveness. See if you can revisit the topic at a later time where you can set the context by making it clear that this is about learning, and that you are in no way critiquing this person as an individual by providing feedback.
6 Benefits of Authenticity for Individuals
As C.G. Jung says, "The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are."
Here are six benefits that being more authentic at work can bring to you as an individual:
Increased job satisfaction: When you are able to be your authentic self at work, you are more likely to find meaning and purpose in your work. This can lead to increased job satisfaction and a greater sense of fulfillment.
Improved mental and physical health: Hiding your true self at work can be emotionally taxing and lead to stress, anxiety, and even illness. When you are able to be more authentic, you may experience more sustained energy and improved health and well-being.
More confidence in speaking up and sharing ideas, observations, and feedback.
Better relationships with colleagues: When you are authentic, you are more likely to form deeper and more meaningful connections with your colleagues. This can lead to improved teamwork, communication, and collaboration.
Greater sense of purpose: Being authentic allows you to align your work with your values and sense of purpose. This can lead to a greater sense of fulfillment and motivation in your work.
Increased creativity and innovation: When you are able to bring your unique perspective and ideas to the workplace, you feel less restricted and have more freedom, which opens up possibilities for creation and innovation.
5 Benefits of Authenticity For Organizations
When employees are encouraged and supported to be more authentic at work, it can also bring several benefits to the organization. Here are five to check out:
Increased employee engagement: Employees who are able to be their authentic selves at work are more likely to feel engaged and invested in their work. This can lead to increased productivity, creativity, and innovation.
Improved teamwork and collaboration: Authenticity allows employees to build deeper and more meaningful connections with their colleagues. This can lead to improved teamwork, communication, and collaboration.
Improved talent retention: When employees feel supported and valued for their authentic selves, they are more likely to stay with the organization long-term. This can reduce turnover and the costs associated with recruitment and training.
Enhanced reputation: Organizations that value authenticity and inclusivity can build a positive reputation as an employer that supports and respects their employees. This can attract top talent and improve the organization's brand image.
Greater diversity and inclusion: Encouraging authenticity can create a workplace culture that values and respects diversity and inclusion. This can lead to a more diverse and inclusive workforce, which can bring new perspectives and ideas to the organization.
Why is being authentic at work so hard?
Completing the tasks at hand and working towards ambitious goals can be difficult enough without having to consider whether or not you're aligning your true self to the role. Many people, upon joining a team, unconsciously assess the acceptable behaviors and the risks associated with deviating from them.
People work to manage impressions - by determining how safe (or unsafe) it is to display different behaviors and adapt in order to thrive (or survive). Sociologist Erving Goffman, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956) describes how we play roles and wear masks in order to put ourselves in the best light depending on the context we’re in. So, at work, you may play up certain parts of yourself while you suppress other parts.
Specific reasons it can be hard to be authentic at work include:
Fear of being judged or penalized in some way: People may be afraid to reveal their true selves at work because they fear being judged or rejected by their colleagues or superiors. They may feel pressure to conform to certain expectations or norms in order to fit in and be accepted. Amy Edmonson, and her work on psychological safety, describes some of the key fears that hold people back from expressing what they really need or think in a team: the fears of looking ignorant, incompetent, intrusive, or negative.
Professional norms and expectations: In many workplaces, there are certain professional norms and expectations that may conflict with an individual's true personality or values. For example, an introverted person may feel pressure to be more outgoing and social in order to succeed in a sales role.
Power dynamics: Workplace hierarchies and power dynamics can make it difficult for employees to speak up or express themselves freely. Employees may feel pressure to please their superiors or avoid conflict, which can lead to suppressing their true thoughts and feelings.
Personal insecurities: Individuals may have personal insecurities or doubts that make it difficult to be their authentic selves. For example, someone who lacks confidence in their abilities may feel the need to present a certain image or persona in order to feel more competent or successful.
In any given moment, it can feel easier to take the path of least resistance, just put your head down and get the job done than to bring in your unique perspective, align your role to your skills and strengths, etc.
Over time, however, this can lead you to a place that is far from where you started. I have worked with many accomplished leaders who cannot recognize themselves when they look in the mirror. They have excelled at taking the feedback they needed to be successful and doing what needed to be done, but they've lost themselves in the process. And when you're at a point where your identity at work is so far from who you truly identify to be as a person, it can feel overwhelming and debilitating on how to reconcile it.
Rather than a learning process, for many leaders, there is also an unlearning process needed to embrace being authentic at work.
Understanding Authenticity at Work with a Diversity and Inclusion Lens
People from diverse backgrounds face additional barriers when it comes to being authentic at work. There is pressure to conform to dominant cultural norms and to suppress parts of one's identity that doesn't fit with those norms. There are real fears of facing discrimination or bias or being penalized in some way because one is perceived as 'too' different.
There is a concept which plays out in the workplace: covering. Covering at work is the tendency to downplay stigmatized identities in an effort to fit in. Kenji Yoshino, in partnership with Deloitte, released a report in 2019 that showed that 61% of respondents to their study reported covering part of themselves across four defined axes: appearance, affiliation, advocacy, and association. When you look at demographic differences, however, their data reveal that while 83% of LGB individuals reported covering, only 45% of straight white men reported it.
It's important to understand that in some environments and for some individuals there may be real risks associated with bringing your authentic self to work. For example, in America, if a black woman wears her hair in its natural form, she could face consequences (read more about how the CROWN Act is enacting change around this).
If you observe people who are not from the dominant group in your workplace seem hesitant to bring their authentic selves to work, despite invitations to do so, do not judge them for it. Instead, get curious about the dynamics in your team that may lead them to experience the same team differently than you do. Respect their right to be on their own journey, and remain genuinely curious and sincere in your efforts to get to know them in ways that will allow them to contribute their best work in their way.
The Paradoxes of Authenticity
There are a few paradoxes of authenticity that are important to point out so that you don't fall into one of the confusing traps these paradoxes can create.
Adherence to a set of qualities versus uniqueness paradox
Take this example, if you're in Manhattan and you go to a Moroccan restaurant, you're likely after some authentic Moroccan cuisine. In this context, an authentic tagine would be a tagine that is representative of that region by adhering to traditional recipes and cooking methods in Morocco. In this case, authenticity implies conformity to a specific set of established norms and expectations.
But consider this very different example. You're out for dinner in a restaurant, and there is a very unique dish on the menu (I'm thinking of a curried cauliflower steak I had recently). The dish is unlike anything you've ever had and you're curious about the chef. You read about the chef's story - he's trained as a chef in French cuisine and has traveled extensively in Southeast Asia, integrating local ingredients and getting inspired from his travels to create original recipes. This chef is authentic. He's courageous to try new things and make original creations. In this case, authenticity implies individuality and uniqueness and expressing one's unique qualities and characteristics.
If you are "authentically" a doctor, it means you've received the adequate training and certifications to be qualified as a doctor and you consistently use the skills of a doctor.
Even so, you have your own unique life experiences, talents, points of view, and instincts that will shape how you approach any given situation.
In an attempt to be seen and valued as an authentic (legitimate) professional, there may be an over-emphasis upon conforming to the set of qualities over tapping into your uniqueness. Sometimes it results in feedback like: "If you want to get ahead, we need to see more of the authentic you", other times I've seen people requiring much bigger shifts in their lives after suppressing their uniqueness in order to adhere to expectations, which can lead to a lack of fulfillment and satisfaction in their careers, or even to mental and physical health issues.
You can find ways to bring your authentic self into the roles you play - making you unique, but still in the broader context of adhering to what it means, professionally speaking, to deliver your duties. You can adhere to a set of criteria/qualities in a job AND bring your unique experiences and point of view to the role.
Who you really are versus who you are becoming and the learning paradox
If you are too rigid in your understanding of who you really are, it will prevent you from stepping way out of your comfort zone and trying new things. "I'm not good at making presentations" or "I prefer not to be around people" will prevent you from steep learning opportunities that could evolve who you are and what you're capable of. Worse, using "well, this is who I really am" in response to feedback as a defense mechanism will lead to you being righteous about who you are, and stagnant about where you're going.
Often, when you're stretched right to the edge of your capabilities, you may not feel genuine or real, but closer to like you're 'faking it.' It's important to differentiate this paradox so you don't miss out on growth opportunities by using your authenticity as an excuse not to step to the edge of your comfort zone in service to learning and growing. To becoming.
One way through this paradox is to act first, then reflect, not the other way around.
As Herminia Ibarra writes in an HBR article: "First act: plunge ourselves into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people, and experiment with new ways of getting things done. Especially in times of transition and uncertainty, thinking and introspection should follow experience—not vice versa. Action changes who we are and what we believe is worth doing."
Navigating these paradoxes can be challenging. Honor the complexity of authenticity by recognizing these paradoxes and noticing how they play out and the patterns in your own behavior that are shaped by them.
An Example of an Executive Struggling to "Be More of Her Authentic Self" At Work
An executive, let’s call her Janet, came to me last year with the hope to make sense of some feedback she’d received from her global leadership team. “If you want to continue to grow in this organization, we need to see more of your authentic self.”
Janet is open-minded and growth-oriented and understands the value of feedback, but this one really stumped her. She could not come up with actionable next steps. So she went to her leaders, thanked them for providing the feedback, and asked for more specific insights. “Could you provide examples of what an authentic self would look like behaviorally?”
One leader said: “Authenticity as a behavior could be saying you don’t know when you don’t know something.”
So, she thought, authenticity is about being honest, speaking the truth, and being direct.
This was interesting to her because she had been given feedback numerous times throughout her career that she was too direct. And, while, situationally, she could imagine a time when admitting not having an answer to something could be powerful, she could also think of others when doing so, especially in her cultural context, could lose trust in a team that seeks a certain perceived level of confidence in a leader.
Another leader said: “Authenticity is about living your values.” The leader gave an example of a boss they had once had that prioritized family and was very transparent about putting family events first. “Doing this helped me and other team members connect to our own top values and find our own ways to live them without compromising on the work.”
Janet reflected on her own values. She’d always prioritized doing whatever it takes to meet her goals and to fulfill her role to the very best of her capabilities. Her approach has been to show up to work, get the job done, and go home. She could more easily attribute her success to date to her ability to NOT be authentic at work. "It feels lazy to bring 'my true self' into work - I park my personal needs, control myself at work, and channel my focus toward learning the very best skills required for the role and completing the tasks in front of me with the highest standard of excellence."
Can you relate to Janet?
I immediately appreciated Janet's no-nonsense approach to growth and her commitment to work through this feedback in service to her larger goals of thriving in the organization and stretching herself towards a future promotion.
Over the following few months, we worked through a lot of what's in this post, from deepening her understanding of what authenticity is, to working on strategies to foster it at work.
Six months after we met, Janet was on a business trip to her company's global headquarters. She was asked to lead a lunch and learn AMA (Ask Me Anything).
Employees that participated in the event said: "Janet is SO authentic!"
She was delighted when this feedback made its way to her bosses, who couldn't believe the progress she'd made on something so complex in such a short time.
"Well, that's part of my authentic self." she laughed, "I'm someone who loves to learn and to break complex things into concrete actions and next steps!"
If you found this post valuable and you've taken something away from it, I invite you to share it with others you think may benefit.
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Wishing you well, and sending you lots of love,