Authenticity: Who Do You Want to Be?

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“Be yourself.  Everyone else is taken.”

Oscar Wilde

Truly effective executive presence is comprised of many attributes.  Authenticity and integrity are key values that are most admired in top leaders.  In fact, many of the most admired leaders have boatloads of authenticity and the right mix of vulnerability that is absolutely magnetic. Many corporate cultures are quite strong and require certain codes of behavior.  Some of these “codes” can be incongruent for leaders.  A code might be “winning at all costs”, which for some may not resonate.  Another code could be “work hard, play hard” and maybe the leader would really rather not “play hard” with the people they work with—particularly if they don’t have a lot in common with their fellow employees. So, what to do?

Some leaders have shared horror stories where they were advised to act like the majority in their company and conform to fit in.  As you might imagine, this didn’t work for them AT ALL.  This type of story is commonly told by women and minorities.  Leaders that are being inauthentic or have to stretch far to reach the “code” of behavior, often report feeling exhausted at the end of the day.  Inauthenticity can also feel incongruent to others.  Our brains might react by saying; “hmmmm, something is not quite right here”. 

For 25 years I worked in the tech industry where most of my peers were men.  When I was promoted to manager, I was the first woman in the role and I often felt like I didn’t fit in.  I didn’t have a strong passion for technology, so I didn’t really connect with my techie peers on the products we sold.  Other peers of mine were into sports and loved to golf.  Watching sports is not my passion—I’d rather be participating—except for golf—too slow, too long, too boring for my taste.  I couldn’t pretend to be something I wasn’t and often found myself feeling like I was on the outside looking in. 

Making connections and building relationships with others is a talent I possess.  I have passion for helping people grow and harnessing their power to achieve success.  This was ultimately the bridge for me to become more closely integrated with my peers.  I built relationships with them by finding connections with them on topics that they never likely discussed with the others on our team.  I worked to stay true to myself and tried not to become something I wasn’t. 

Here are some ways to maintain authenticity yet connect with others:

  • Find common ground—where do their interests and yours intersect?
  • Ask for advice—go to them on their area of expertise and genuinely seek their guidance
  • Request that they mentor someone on your team
  • Suggest a mutually beneficial partnership:  Learn from them on a topic they are especially talented in and you could help them with one of your talent areas