Leaning into authenticity can be challenging for leaders. Leading a journey and not a destination. Finding who you are while leading others and navigating the expectations of others is a hard journey for anyone. Let's dig into authenticity a bit more.

Brene Brown says this about authenticity. 

“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.” 

Like Brene said above, leading authentically takes daily practice. To suppress your ego, be present, and be brave enough to engage with another consistently is hard. Showing vulnerability and connecting on a deeper level builds trust and strengthens relationships and partnerships. Connecting with someone while making them feel seen and heard is really hard work. Isn’t that what we all want? 

When attending “networking events, asking someone what they do for work is common. It provides an opportunity to connect with and learn about another person. It offers a quick assessment of whether a partnership could evolve. A standard business practice way more common before COVID. I have had some inappropriate encounters at networking events that have colored my view on networking events. While at an event, one engages in civil conversations with friends and colleagues. Your friends and colleagues will introduce you to someone new and often step away. The new person and you engage in pleasantries until the conversation about work presents itself. You both take a moment to share something about your work. You learn something new and collectively decide to move on or continue the conversation. It’s business speed dating! 

On numerous occasions, while sharing about my work, this new person, suddenly disinterested, turned around and walked away before I was finished. Rude, right? It has happened repeatedly and so frequently that I have stopped counting. I’ve never understood how this behavior is acceptable in any setting. It certainly is not a leader displaying a growth opportunity to someone else. 

Anyway, what I took from these experiences was the devaluing of others. Their actions showed me I was not seen, heard, valued, or respected. Somehow these traits have consistently crept into practice in many company cultures. The connection, authenticity, or vulnerability in the situation above was one-sided. One person, myself, decided to be authentic and vulnerable, but it was without reciprocity. A connection can not happen alone. Encounters require reciprocity, where both parties must participate, whether personally or work. 

The most important part of authenticity is vulnerability. You have to be vulnerable and sincere to be authentic. Vulnerability is defined as “the quality of being easily hurt or attacked”. It derives from the Latin word, vulnus, for "wound,". Reflect on that - vulnerability originates from the word “wound”. To open yourself up and be vulnerable, you are leading yourself to the possibility of being wounded. This is why some perceive vulnerability inaccurately as a weakness. People avoid and protect themselves from feeling vulnerable when perceived as a weakness. However, vulnerability is not a weakness. It is the core of our emotions and feelings. When we prevent showing vulnerability, we prevent experiencing our emotions. Our attempts to avoid shame, embarrassment, and sadness eliminate our experiencing love, belonging, joy, and empathy.

It is trendy to say, “bring your authentic self to work”. The reality is that most people don’t bring their authentic selves to work out of fear. Employees bring who they think they must be to portray success based on the company's cultural norms. When companies say to bring their authentic self to work, but course-correct their employees' authenticity, it creates major cultural misalignment. Why do leaders correct authentic employees at work? Many leaders say employees need to grow and evolve with the company, but companies grow at a different rate than employees. The definition of grow is “to increase by natural development”. Natural development means that growth happens organically and can not be forced or requested on demand by companies. Growth is a partnership between employees and the company. The employee should have more say in their development path with the permission to decline development that is not right for them.  

Job satisfaction survey statistics vary among workers and researchers. Some surveys say job dissatisfaction is as high as 35% with 60% of people wanting to leave their jobs in 2023. That’s a significant loss in institutional knowledge. Some leave for money, but many leave due to culture. What do you do when employees struggle to “fit in” or are “unhappy”? Do you have an inclusion conversation (“How can we make your experience better?”) or a career-counseling talk (“It looks like you’re not happy here. Maybe this isn't the place for you.”) 

What happens when you show up authentically, but the company doesn’t like the authentic self who showed up? It is clear to employees when you are not “welcome” at work. It drains you of your day. As humans, we intrinsically feel what is not said. When you no longer meet others' perceptions, they signal you are not valued. This is when employees quickly learn to be inauthentic at work. They show the company what they need to be successful until they leave the organization. 

No employee wants to be the “other” - ever. Company cultures do not value “others”, those out of step, or with non-traditional points of view. Company culture through actions signals when you are not appreciated, who you are is wrong, or what you do is not in line with the company norms. Employees referred to HR or management are counseled, possibly reprimanded, written up, sent home, or jobs threatened or terminated. Why are we counseling employees on their authentic behavior? Why can’t the culture embrace all employees and work within the available resource without conjecture?  

Employees are authentic only when psychological safety is achieved full-time in a company. People thrive when spaces are always inclusive, authentic, and supportive. When spaces are only part-time or minimally supportive, this breeds massive cultural misalignment. 

Authenticity and safety must be felt and served by all employees from top to bottom. Instead of faking authenticity, be vulnerable every day to every person. Let others know when you are struggling. Show support for those struggling. Let them know that you hear and see them. You support them when they are ready to talk or need to be uplifted. Say it only if you mean it. If you can not say it, show them some empathy. If you can not do that, tell them you are not in the space to support them today and exit. That is authenticity. 

Consider these questions when reflecting on vulnerability.  

  • Are you leading authentically? How do you know? 
  • When are you not authentic with your employees? How can you change that? 
  • Where are compassion, empathy, and authentic engagement happening daily with your employees? 
  • How do you build on your authentic moment to improve your culture? 
  • If culture is what you say and do daily, how can authenticity and vulnerability guide you to new cultural norms? 

Forging carbon-copy leaders is where many leaders fail. The holy grail is mentoring others to lead authentically without making them a carbon copy of your leadership style. Guiding others to find their authentic leadership style is the best gift you can give to another. It’s also a fantastic legacy to leave.

Contact Pensivetastic today to discuss and collaborate on a path forward for you or your company. We’ll help you get there.