Women aren’t always true to themselves. In a vain attempt to live up to organizational norms and expectations, their behaviors sometimes go against their own values. But it’s not easy being a phony. It takes a lot of energy to behave in ways that are out of sync with our true values, priorities, hopes, characteristics, and style. The energy expended trying to come across as something you are not is energy that’s unavailable for work and other activities.
The alternative to this predicament is authentic leadership— a healthy alignment between your values and behaviors that can reenergize life at work and at home. Women who are authentic have a good understanding of themselves and their priorities. They attend first to what is important to them rather than what might be important to other people. They are clear about how they feel and what they need and prefer.
Authenticity is best thought of as a condition or dynamic balance — and not a personality trait. As a goal, it is not clearly defined like earning an MBA degree. And achieving authenticity doesn’t mean it’s yours to keep. You have to work to remain authentic, reviewing your priorities and choosing behaviors that match those priorities as circumstances change.
It is difficult to develop your capabilities when you are suppressing your true values and style or are distracted by inner conflict.
But living a life strongly connected to your belief system promotes growth, learning, and psychological well-being. That makes authenticity an important factor in leadership development.
Individual authenticity is important for organizations as well. People who are authentic bring their whole selves to their jobs and participate fully and honestly in the workplace. Organizations that place a premium on conformity at the expense of authenticity may be incurring hidden costs. Managers who put on a false front or who struggle with feelings of inauthenticity exhaust so much of their energy that they often find themselves depleted and losing interest in their work. In addition, inauthenticity can often be recognized by others and become a disruptive, negative force adding to uncertainty and distrust. Organizations that foster authentic behavior are more likely to have engaged, enthusiastic employees and workplaces that are open and promote trust.
Authenticity — which can be described as a healthy alignment between your values and behaviors — is a powerful factor in the lives of women.
Our researchers explored the choices and trade-offs facing high-achieving women in managerial and executive roles. Authenticity emerged as one of the 5 key themes influencing women’s careers and life choices.
In the study, women who demonstrated the greatest authenticity were in touch with what was most important to them and in tune with their instincts:
- Highly authentic women could articulate the choices and trade-offs they’d made about leaving jobs and taking on new ones, balancing motherhood and leadership, work and personal life, getting out of bad situations, switching careers, managing dual careers, setting financial goals, and a range of other issues.
- Highly authentic women were skilled at living with intention both at work and at home, consciously designing their lives in accordance with their top priorities and being authentic.
4 Ways for Women to Lead Authentically
What can you do to develop authenticity? How can you align your inner and outer selves so your work behavior becomes comfortable and natural? We recommend these 4 steps:
1. Increase Your Self-Awareness. A key component of behaving authentically is to understand what you care about most. What are your values, likes, and dislikes? This might sound simple, but in today’s complex world, determining what’s most important can be difficult. Learn sure-fire ways to increase your self-awareness.
2. Assess and Evaluate. Once you’re clear about your values, likes, and dislikes, you can better see how aligned your behaviors are with your beliefs. What have you already given up and need to reclaim, and what you are willing to give up to get what’s most important to you? Set goals that are aligned with your values.
3. Take Action. You may or may not make sweeping changes. You can start with small steps and gradually align your behaviors with your most important values. For example, you might cut back on the number of weekend hours you spend working to improve your personal relationships. Although it might seem as if this change would hurt your job performance, your increased sense of well-being might make you a better and more productive leader.
4. Get Support. In any area of personal development, getting support from other people can help you achieve your goals. Colleagues, friends, and family are valuable. Just remember to trust your instincts. Sometimes acting authentically requires going against what others advise you to do. Developing authenticity often requires taking risks. Have faith in your own judgment about what is right for you.
Becoming and remaining authentic is hard work. But if you commit to living and leading with authenticity, the rewards can be great.
Ready to take the next step?
Our Women’s Leadership Experience program can help talented women understand values, increase influence skills, and lead more authentically.