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 work and personal life, having children, getting out of bad work or personal situations, switching careers, managing dual careers, setting financial goals, and a range of other issues.

Highly authentic women consciously designed their lives in accordance with their top priorities, determined to take steps to be authentic.

For example, one woman said she had decided to spend more time with her 2 young children, even though she knew it would slow her rise through the ranks of management. Another was willing to sacrifice being on top of every detail as a mother in order to put more time into her career so she could advance rapidly in her organization.

Another woman in the study made a career change at 40 to better align her work with her values and priorities. A well-paid I.T. manager for a large industrial company had always dreamed of working in an educational setting, so she accepted a pay cut to take an I.T. job at a university. She felt her new work was meaningful, and the school’s mission aligned with her values. She accepted the lower pay as a trade-off necessary to regain her sense of authenticity.

What can you do to develop authenticity? How can you align your inner and outer selves so your work behavior becomes comfortable and natural? Marian Ruderman and Sharon Rogolsky, authors of the white paper Getting Real: How High-Achieving Women Can Lead Authentically, offer 4 steps:

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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.

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?

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.

Authenticity Benefits Organizations

There are a number of ways that authentic leadership benefits not only individuals, but their larger organizations, too:

  • People who are authentic participate fully and honestly in the workplace.
  • Organizations that foster authentic behavior are more likely to have engaged, enthusiastic employees and workplaces that are open and promote trust.
  • Managers who struggle with inauthenticity often find themselves depleted and losing interest in their work.
  • Inauthenticity can often be recognized by others and become a disruptive, negative force adding to uncertainty and distrust.

This article is adapted from Getting Real: How High-Achieving Women Can Lead Authentically.

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