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The dangers of hiding behind Authenticity

(March 11, 2024 Newsletter)

Whether you notice or not, we each carry around assumptions about ourselves and how the world works that dictate our decisions. Some of them lead to outcomes that move us forward while others hold us back.


One example is what it means to be “authentic” at work. Authenticity is one of those concepts that many of my clients talk – and worry – about as they realign their leadership identities and communication styles. They often wonder out loud, “How can I stay authentic with all these new expectations on me?” I hear their concern, but the question is misguided.


Why it matters:

  • Last week I wrote about how a “listen to learn” orientation zoomed up to the third most important communication trait that leaders should possess, according to a recent survey published in HBR . The other notable shift in that same set of results is that “Authenticity” came in at #5, replacing “Joking and bantering” (which makes me a little sad).

  • Similarly, on the next survey question about appearance traits of leaders, “Authenticity” jumped to #2, replacing “Physical attractiveness,” right under having a “Polished look.” (But… what if your “authentic” look isn’t “polished”???)


What am I so worried about?

Do you know what I hear under the question “How can I stay authentic with all these new expectations on me?” Authenticity = rigidity. The key is in the word “stay.”

  • In other words, “Being authentic means just being me. I am who I am.” When my clients say things like this, I wonder if they’re limiting their leadership identity AND range of communication options by assuming that they know what the “authentic them” looks and sounds like. Forever.

Exactly when a call to leadership brings an opportunity for opening up, people close in on themselves, afraid to try out something new. They (and maybe you, or someone you work with) feel pressure to have a clearcut and unchanging answer to the question of what it means to be authentic at work.


So what else can you do, aside from “Stay Authentic?”


Let me ask you this: Instead of staying authentic, what would it look like to…

  • Evolve your understanding of authenticity?

  • Update your perception of authenticity?

  • Expand your range of authenticity?


Based on your answer to the above…

  • What possibilities open up for you?

  • What will you be able to achieve that you’re unable to accomplish right now?

  • What would shift in terms of your effectiveness, credibility, and ability to navigate ever-more complex relationships?

  • What’s important to you about making that shift?

  • What would you need to resolve in order to make that shift?

  • What strengths do you have at your disposal that would make it possible to make that shift?

  • What do you want to do next?


I really don’t want to tell you what to do here, so I’m not sharing proposed action items or next steps. But if these questions resonate, tell your next meeting you’ll be five minutes late and jot down some answers. You’re welcome to share them with me if you’d like by replying to this email.


In short, when authenticity becomes about agility, flexibility, responsiveness… if you welcome the chance to evolve, if you embrace whatever it means to meet the moment, who knows what you could accomplish. I’m here for it, whatever it is.

 

The Coaching Corner


Time to start quarterly check-ins


Happy mid-March, everyone. Time to pull your attention away from daily details and make time in your next 1:1 or team meetings for reviewing how the first quarter of the year is set to wrap up. Discuss the below with your team:

  • Are you on schedule for initiatives that were underway or just getting started?

  • What objectives need to be set or adjusted for Q2?

  • What has everyone learned so far this year?

If you don’t make the time for conversations like this, they won’t happen.

 

Recommendations


Podcast rec: If stakeholder alignment is a challenge for you, this episode of “Coaching Real Leaders” may push you to test some of your assumptions around speed and control. How Do I More Effectively Build Stakeholder Alignment.

 

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