4 Ways That Women Can Lead Authentically

4 Ways That Women Can Lead Authentically

Being Inauthentic Is Exhausting. Here’s How to Live & Lead More Authentically

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’re 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 lead authentically have a good understanding of themselves and their priorities. They attend first to what’s 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.

But it’s difficult to develop your capabilities when you’re suppressing your true values and style, or are distracted by inner conflict.

Living Authentically Takes Effort, But It’s Worth It, for Both Individuals & Organizations

Authenticity is best thought of as a condition or dynamic balance — and not a personality trait. As a goal, it’s 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, continually reviewing your priorities and choosing behaviors that match those priorities as circumstances change.

But living a life strongly connected to your belief system promotes growth, learning, and psychological wellbeing. It’s part of practicing holistic leadership, even in uncertain times. That makes leading authentically 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 and employees who put on a false front or who struggle with feelings of inauthenticity at work 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 psychologically safe workplaces that are open, inclusive, and collaborative.

A Closer Look at Women Who Lead Authentically

Authenticity — which can be described as a healthy alignment between your values and behaviors — is a powerful factor in the lives of leaders, especially women leaders.

Our researchers explored the choices and trade-offs facing high-achieving women in managerial and executive roles. Authenticity emerged as one of the 4 keys for success for women leaders.

In our study, women who demonstrated the greatest authenticity were in touch with what was most important to them and in tune with their instincts:

Infographic: 4 Ways That Women Can Lead Authentically

4 Steps for Women to Lead More Authentically

What can you do to develop authenticity and lead more authentically? 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 and leading authentically is to understand what you care about most. What are your values, likes, and dislikes? What are your strengths and weaknesses? This might sound simple, but in today’s complex world, determining what’s most important to you can be difficult. Set aside time to reflect, and learn some 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 are you willing to give up to get more of what you want? Ensure that how you spend your time actually aligns with whatever is most important to you, and set goals for yourself that are aligned with your values.

3. Take Action.

You may or may not make sweeping changes. You can begin a change now and make your intentions reality by starting with small steps and gradually aligning 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 wellbeing might make you more resilient, and therefore 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 different types of support. Just remember to trust your instincts. Sometimes acting or leading authentically requires going against what others advise you to do. Developing authenticity often requires taking risks. Have faith in your own judgment about what’s right for you.

Becoming and remaining someone who leads authentically is hard work. But if you commit to living and leading with authenticity, the rewards can be great.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Help the talented women at your organization lead authentically by providing them with customized women’s leadership development. Or, partner with us to create an organizational culture where all your talent can thrive and bring their authentic selves to work with our Equity, Diversity & Inclusion practice and solutions.


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March 31, 2022
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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