Authenticity is the healthy alignment between internal values and beliefs and external behavior. Authenticity comes from finding your style and your way of leading — and making life decisions that reflect your values and your personality.
Leadership success starts with authenticity — doing our jobs without compromising our values and personality. People trust us when we are true to ourselves and that trust makes it possible to get things done. Leaders who are clear about the importance of building trust are better able to be authentic without being inappropriate. Being authentic isn’t a license to behave without filters or good judgment.
Being a phony is hard work. 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 unavailable for work and other activities.
Authenticity helps organizations. People who are authentic bring their whole selves to their jobs and participate fully and honestly in the workplace. Organizations that foster authentic behavior are more likely to have engaged, enthusiastic employees and work environments that are open and promote trust.
Being authentic is easier when you already “fit.” If you look, walk or talk in a manner consistent with dominant images of leadership in your organization, line of work and even the broader culture, authenticity usually comes easier. When we embrace more inclusive images of leadership, more people will feel able to bring their full self to work.
Rethink “leadership image.” A big obstacle to authenticity is a strong need to maintain a certain image. If so, you probably have defined your image of “executive” or “leader” more narrowly than you need to. Try to let go of the tight limits or expectations of how you need to appear — revealing your personality and humanness is a better sign of effective leadership.
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 we often avoid or overlook the process of clarifying what is most important.
Assess and evaluate. Once you have established values, likes and dislikes, you can better understand how aligned your behaviors are with your values. Assess what you have already given up, be clear on what is most important to you now, and what you will and will not do to get there. Remember, there are no “right” trade-offs to make, and your choices will likely change at various points in your life.
Take action. Make a change in your life. You may decide sweeping changes are needed – if so, remember that you don’t need to do it all at once. You can start with small steps and gradually align your behaviors with your most important values.
Get support. Bring trusted colleagues and friends into your plan for greater authenticity. They can be sounding boards, feedback-givers, cheerleaders and problem-solvers. At the same time, have faith in your own judgment about what is right for you.