Do you Show up as Your True Self at Work? How to be a More Authentic Leader
Do you show up as your "true" self at work, or is there a difference between your authentic self and the version you show others? If so, this may be getting in the way of your influence and effectiveness as a leader. Here are 4 ways to let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace more who you really are.
Shortly after I published one of my first blog posts, I asked a friend for her feedback. She replied, “It's great, but something's missing. Where’s the ‘real Jill’ here? I only see the buttoned-up version of you in your blog."
She was right. I realized I wasn't being authentic with my readers. Instead of sharing the many ways I also “get in my own way,” I hid my struggles between the lines of my client’s stories. It felt vulnerable to put myself out there for the world to see (and possibly judge).
How about you? Do you show up as your "true" self, or is there a difference between your authentic self and the version you show others? Consider the following:
You adopt a different style or persona to conform to others’ expectations
You are afraid to be vulnerable for fear of appearing weak or somehow lacking
You repress important aspects of personal life or social identity to be accepted
You aren’t always honest about what you think and feel to avoid upsetting others
If any of these examples sound familiar, you aren’t alone. Most of us can feel inauthentic at times, especially when it comes to our careers. We fear that if others see us for who we really are, they may judge, criticize, or reject us. So instead of “just being ourselves,” we censor or hide aspects of who we really are to be accepted and fit in.
Why Authenticity Matters for Women Leaders
Have you ever just met someone you instantly knew was trying to be someone they aren't? Or that what they are telling you isn’t entirely true? Like the disingenuous politician kissing babies and making empty promises to get our vote- we can spot inauthenticity from a mile away. While they may think they’re fooling us, we see right through their façade.
That's why authenticity matters. It's about being genuine and honest about who you are and what you care about. This garners a deeper level of trust and connection with others. And by others, I mean the people you work with and lead.
Authentic leadership is all about influence. And you can't influence others to follow you if they don't trust or feel connected to who you really are.
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” – Brene Brown.
Leading with authenticity is essential to achieving your full power and potential as a leader. Yet, this can be tricky to navigate, especially for women who feel they aren’t always or easily accepted as leaders within their largely male-dominated cultures. It's as if we walk a tightrope to navigate the conflicting pressure to be assertive and competent but also liked and accepted.
It’s no wonder women leaders often feel inauthentic at work. This constant need to adopt a different persona or style to meet others' expectations of who and what we should be as leaders not only disconnects us from others. It also disconnects us from what makes us unique and special as women leaders.
How to Show Up as Your True Self
Isn’t it exhausting to keep walking this tightrope? Aren’t you tired of putting up a façade and holding yourself back? If so, here are four ways to let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace more who you really are.
1. Embrace the Power of Vulnerability
What comes to mind when you think of the word "vulnerability?" Many of us see it as a weakness—something to be avoided at all costs.
So instead of being vulnerable by revealing any struggles or mistakes, you armor up with the need to always display flawlessness and perfection. But this “armor” also shields others from seeing you for who you really are.
There’s just no way around it. If you want to be authentic, you have to be willing to be vulnerable. This may mean sharing parts of your personal life that feel risky to disclose, such as telling someone you also struggle with self-doubt or imposter syndrome. It feels vulnerable because we don't know how others will react. We have no guarantees.
But it’s worth it. In her wildly popular Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, Dr. Brene Brown asserts that embracing vulnerability is the only way to live wholeheartedly and foster real connection with others. I agree. When I had the courage to reveal more of my own struggles in my blog, my reader engagement increased!
2. Embrace Who You Already Are
As one of the few women judges in her courthouse, Renee worried she came across as "too nice." She believed she needed to adopt a “command and control” leadership style to be taken seriously.
Like Renee, we often think we need to change something fundamental about ourselves to become better leaders. That we need to be somehow different. Yet, our true power comes from what’s already within us. Not something that needs to be added or changed.
This includes our strengths, values, underlying motivations, and a sense of purpose. In the example of Renee, her genuine kindness and compassion were a breath of fresh air and facilitated cooperation and buy-in with others in her courtroom. Rather than a liability, she came to see these qualities as a superpower and distinguishing feature of her leadership and personal brand.
This metaphor captures the essence of how our power and potential as leaders don't come from creating something new but from uncovering what is already within us:
"The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there; I just have to chisel away the superfluous material." Michelangelo
3. Embrace Your Whole Self
After having children, I worried colleagues would see me as less ambitious and committed to my career. So I avoided drawing any attention to my role as a mother in professional settings. Yet suppressing this part of my identity felt stressful and made it difficult for me to have a genuine connection with other working moms.
When you arrive at the office (virtually or in-person), do you check part of personal life or social identity at the door? Maybe it's your ethnicity, sexual orientation, parental status, or even religion? If so, what might be holding you back from embracing and sharing more of who you really are with others?
Many of us do not feel we can bring our whole selves to work because we fear some aspects of who we are won't be acceptable to others. For example, in my research with Latina attorneys, many shared how they felt the need to mask or disavow certain aspects of their cultural identity to conform more closely to the image of white majority attorneys. This often made them feel like they were leading separate and disconnected lives.
Authentic leaders model what it means to embrace one’s whole identity. Being open about who you are and what’s important to you allows others to connect with you on a deeper human level. It also opens the door for others to be more of who they truly are with you.
4. Embrace Your Truth
Recently a colleague asked me for my honest feedback about how I believe she handled a delicate situation with a direct report. My first impulse was to tell her she did just fine to spare her feelings. But the truth was, she could have shown more empathy and compassion.
Being honest with others about what you (really) think and feel can be challenging, especially if you are a people pleaser. In our desire to not upset or offend others, we withhold the truth. So instead of being honest about how someone’s behavior was offensive to you, you stay quiet to avoid coming across as challenging or overly sensitive.
The key to providing authentic feedback is not to tiptoe around the truth. It's to let go of any judgment you may have about it. This means being direct and candid about the issue while maintaining compassion and concern for the person.
Want to be a More Authentic Leader?
Authentic leadership is a process that requires courage to be vulnerable and let yourself be seen. It’s not easy, but necessary if you want to achieve your full power and potential as a leader.
Isn’t it about time to let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you really are? If so, please contact me to learn how I can help. You are also welcome to schedule a complimentary coaching session to experience the power of coaching to help you "get out of your own way" to realize your full potential.
Jill Lynch Cruz, PhD, PCC, GCDF, SPHR
Executive Coach & Career Development Facilitator
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