“If you think dealing with issues like worthiness and authenticity and vulnerability are not worthwhile because there are more pressing issues, like the bottom line or attendance or standardized test scores, you are sadly, sadly mistaken. It underpins everything.” Brene Brown
In some instances, authenticity does not elicit the responses that one may hope to receive. Consider Cynthia, a general manager in a health care organization. Her promotion into that role increased her direct reports 10-fold and expanded the range of the business she oversaw and she felt a little shaky about making such a big leap. A strong believer in transparent, collaborative leadership, she bared her soul to her new employees: “I want to do this job,” she said, “but it’s scary, and I need your help.” Her candor backfired; she lost credibility with people who wanted and needed a confident leader to take charge Ibarra, Herminia. (2015) The Authenticity Paradox. Harvard Business Review January-Februay.)
Clearly the aforementioned is an example of what could actually happen when a person takes the risk to be authentic. Another example in this article from leadership pictures a person who feels like he has to choose between being a failure or a fake. The demands of leadership can be complex and ever changing. Is it possible to be authentic in leadership by publicly acknowledging weaknesses or fears and still be respected and trusted by subordinates? Is it possible to be true to yourself self when company policies require uncomfortable follow through with protocol and procedures?
Ibarra’s research findings about the challenges to authentic leaders are as follows. First, advancements in the work place require people to move out their comfort zones. Secondly, people retreat to familiar behaviors in moments of uncertainty about job performance. Finally, and most importantly, personal challenges toward our sense of self teach us the most about effective leadership.
Authenticity poses problems for leaders. To begin, can one hang on to their true self when experience causes people to change and evolove in the work place? Next, a leader choosing to hold a rigid idea of self- concept could keep him or her from moving forward aborting opportunities to demonstrate expertise. Finally, is it possible to be politically correct, culturally relevant, and meet workplace expectations while holding fast to our authenticity? Cynthia realized later that “Being authentic does not mean that you can be held up to the light and people can see right through you.” The article concludes that she needed distance or what I like to call healthy boundaries to gain the confidence of her new employees and discover success in her new job. Cynthia determined how to be authentic for her own path. Further, Ibarra sites psychologist Mark Synder, who says that leaders who have the strong ability to self-monitor can develop their own personal style. Self-monitoring allows leaders to be flexible and pliable although covering their vulnerability with bluster, while managing their public image, and advancing quickly. When self-monitors express their true chameleon nature should they be labeled insincere or authentic?
I have been in leadership roles in some capacity most of my life. Thankfully, over the years I have definitely expereinced personal growth. While much of my authentic principles have remanied constant. Those principles have also expanded as I have matured. In many ways I have transformed from the person I was twenty years ago. However, as I lead, my goal was always to do so in the best way that I could as one who was true to myself. As the relationship with myself developed so did the natural way I chose to move authentically in the world.
The pressure from other leaders and subordinates to be perfect, relentless, and all-knowing was unbearable at times. However, like in the article, I found creative ways to self-monitor so I could learn to be comfortable in my humanness. I also consistently invited others to actively participate at varying levels with me in accommplishing the established mission. Both the mission and vision are always bigger than one person. Including them in this way, they could understand the labor and complexities of actualizing the vision and hopefully become more empathetic. Dealing with criticism and handling how we communicate our position on particular issues all filters through colored lenses significant to our own personal journey. Style which speaks more directly to identity and skill which is a reflection of training are two distinctly different components of leadership which can be both nuanced and developed. There is no cookie-cutter method to leadership and people tend to follow leaders according to reasons that resonates with them.
In retrospect, I clearly remember turning down opportunities for speaking engagements that would in some way cause me to compromise my authenticity. With no regret, I stepped down from a coveted position once that was requiring me to behave outside of my authentic character. Thou flattered I often have found myself humbly rejecting the notion that the way I presented as a speaker could be compared to some famed mainstream personality. I’m okay with just being me in a category of my own. The journey along my path has taught me that it does not matter what is at stake. There is never anything that trumps being true to myself. There are always risks in allowing for vulnerability in authenticity. However, how one chooses to demonstrate their authenticity should be done so with prudent wisdom.
Knowledge of self is the beginning of wisdom. As a leader I learned in order to make the best decisions, I was only responsible for using the present knowledge and understanding I possessed at the time. The life-long process of authenticity permits this grace. My perspective on certain insight and how it was acquired was personal. With that, I could then navigate my leadership from an authentic place.
“We have to dare to be ourselves however frightening or strange that self may prove to be” Mary Sarton.
Copyright by Deana Gordon
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