How much of “you” can you reveal at work? I don’t mean dress code, but acting and saying things the way you would outside of work. There is a fine line between inappropriate and inauthentic.

With social networking, flexible schedules, and hip-mounted technologies that keep us connected to people and places all over the world – separation between work and non-work is no longer the default way of doing things. Most workers have to figure out and manage their boundaries – by reinforcing them, blurring them, or whatever makes sense in the moment. Switching from one’s “work-self” to one’s “non-work self” is something we have to do more frequently. Many folks blend work and non-work “friends” on social networking sites. That could be a good thing, but is it?  The idea of an integrated self is appealing – it’d make life easier, but is it an equal option for everyone?

Being authentic is bound to be easier for folks who are part of the leadership “in” crowd (aka folks who fit the leadership mold – who look, walk, or talk in a manner consistent with dominant images of leadership). As we collectively embrace more inclusive images of leadership, the option for everyone to bring their full self to work will increase.

In the meantime, we may have to ask ourselves is this inappropriate or is it something that challenges our image of leadership. – and thereby places an expectation that someone else has to be inauthentic in order to fit our leadership mold?

How do you help maintain authenticity within the organization?

– Kelly Hannum

10 thoughts on “Authenticity and the Leadership Mold

  1. Cora says:

    This is a great topic! What might this “blurred line” threaten in terms of diverse teams and diverse leadership that is so important to creative ideas and innovation?

  2. Cora says:

    This is a great topic! What might this “blurred line” threaten in terms of diverse teams and diverse leadership that is so important to creative ideas and innovation?

  3. Gregg says:

    I think that a failure to adopt a more inclusive image of leadership has high costs for the organization and high personal costs for nontraditional leaders. Organizations that fail to embrace diversity in leadership styles may forfeit advantages brought to the table by some of their best and most creative problem solvers.
    Non traditional leaders may pay high personal costs in organizations that do not value their styles. Forcing yourself to act in an inauthentic way for an extended period of time is difficult to maintain and contributes to frustration and burn out and shortens their tenure with the organization.

  4. Gregg says:

    I think that a failure to adopt a more inclusive image of leadership has high costs for the organization and high personal costs for nontraditional leaders. Organizations that fail to embrace diversity in leadership styles may forfeit advantages brought to the table by some of their best and most creative problem solvers.
    Non traditional leaders may pay high personal costs in organizations that do not value their styles. Forcing yourself to act in an inauthentic way for an extended period of time is difficult to maintain and contributes to frustration and burn out and shortens their tenure with the organization.

  5. keith southey says:

    Interesting topic indeed and your opening comment raises a few seperate issues in my mind. One is the question of openeness and another is definitions of “authenticity”
    With regard to openness there are many aspects to consider and in my view it may be a sort of continuum of sensitivity.
    At the extremes it is a relatively easy decision e.g. In Canada there is currently a scandal about a bishop in the church being caught with child porn pictures on his PC…. not too difficult to say that his “non-work” interests are totally incompatable with the workplace and NO he could not have shared that side of his life in the workplace!!
    But as we work down along the continuum I have known several people who have had to live in fear and secrecy because they are homosexual and to have “come out” at work was too great a risk. In the saddest case it was a man preparing for gender reassignment surgery and no longer able to keep his secret life out of work and in another case it was a huge dilemma to decide if he could reveal his HIV positive status in the fear that he would risk his employment
    At the softer end of the continuum there are issues of personality and lifestyle that can safely be shared in the workplace and in may actually enhance the persons credibility as a whole person.
    So I see it as an individual decision based on each persons comfort level as to what they reveal that it gets coded as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing and framed as an authenticity issue is misleading and can in fact be intrusive.
    As for”authenticity” can we also accept that if someone is a very private person for any number of reasons that IS their authentic self. What then gives us the right to demand that they must reveal more and in actual fact behave in ways which to them are “inauthentic”

  6. keith southey says:

    Interesting topic indeed and your opening comment raises a few seperate issues in my mind. One is the question of openeness and another is definitions of “authenticity”
    With regard to openness there are many aspects to consider and in my view it may be a sort of continuum of sensitivity.
    At the extremes it is a relatively easy decision e.g. In Canada there is currently a scandal about a bishop in the church being caught with child porn pictures on his PC…. not too difficult to say that his “non-work” interests are totally incompatable with the workplace and NO he could not have shared that side of his life in the workplace!!
    But as we work down along the continuum I have known several people who have had to live in fear and secrecy because they are homosexual and to have “come out” at work was too great a risk. In the saddest case it was a man preparing for gender reassignment surgery and no longer able to keep his secret life out of work and in another case it was a huge dilemma to decide if he could reveal his HIV positive status in the fear that he would risk his employment
    At the softer end of the continuum there are issues of personality and lifestyle that can safely be shared in the workplace and in may actually enhance the persons credibility as a whole person.
    So I see it as an individual decision based on each persons comfort level as to what they reveal that it gets coded as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing and framed as an authenticity issue is misleading and can in fact be intrusive.
    As for”authenticity” can we also accept that if someone is a very private person for any number of reasons that IS their authentic self. What then gives us the right to demand that they must reveal more and in actual fact behave in ways which to them are “inauthentic”

  7. J Booker says:

    Very interesting topic and a question that I ponder on often. Can you bring it all to work? No! People can be so judgemental, especially of leaders. Leaders are placed on pedestals and are not allowed to talk a certain way or have deadbeat relatives, or country cousins who resemble the Beverly Hillbillies. Why not? Because as a leader we should be able to fix it. Correct our grammar, right the wrong or write a check for the cousin with a gambling problem etc. No one allows leaders to display tough love for family members with addictions or that just won’t get a job. (No they cannot work at the firm with me!)
    I hope the option does become available for everyone to bring their full self to work, for those that want it. But wait, sometimes we go to work to forget about the problems at home. We busy ourselves at work so we don’t have to deal with the rebellious teenager or the spouse that talks about dull stuff.
    We may have to careful of what we ask for in this situation. Once you bring it all to work, there is no going back. Do we really want everyone to see all of our dirty laundry.

  8. J Booker says:

    Very interesting topic and a question that I ponder on often. Can you bring it all to work? No! People can be so judgemental, especially of leaders. Leaders are placed on pedestals and are not allowed to talk a certain way or have deadbeat relatives, or country cousins who resemble the Beverly Hillbillies. Why not? Because as a leader we should be able to fix it. Correct our grammar, right the wrong or write a check for the cousin with a gambling problem etc. No one allows leaders to display tough love for family members with addictions or that just won’t get a job. (No they cannot work at the firm with me!)
    I hope the option does become available for everyone to bring their full self to work, for those that want it. But wait, sometimes we go to work to forget about the problems at home. We busy ourselves at work so we don’t have to deal with the rebellious teenager or the spouse that talks about dull stuff.
    We may have to careful of what we ask for in this situation. Once you bring it all to work, there is no going back. Do we really want everyone to see all of our dirty laundry.

  9. Conor Neill says:

    There is a term that is becoming more and more common F.O.S.: Facebook Over Share. Covers all cases where somebody shares a little too much with their social network friends. We all know cases 😉
    Being authentic doesn’t require telling the social networks the colour of your underwear and what you ate for breakfast; I think there is some work to be done on what is the right amount of personal life that should be shared by a leader in a company. (or politicians – in fact, the biggest barrier to getting great talent into politics is that journalists believe that everything becomes public interest as soon as you become a politician… should this be the case?)

  10. Conor Neill says:

    There is a term that is becoming more and more common F.O.S.: Facebook Over Share. Covers all cases where somebody shares a little too much with their social network friends. We all know cases 😉
    Being authentic doesn’t require telling the social networks the colour of your underwear and what you ate for breakfast; I think there is some work to be done on what is the right amount of personal life that should be shared by a leader in a company. (or politicians – in fact, the biggest barrier to getting great talent into politics is that journalists believe that everything becomes public interest as soon as you become a politician… should this be the case?)

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