Updated: Oct 10, 2019
As I started out my professional career, I had this idea or belief that at work I needed to be a different person compared to who I truly was outside of work. As someone who is naturally very outspoken, outgoing, and a little ADD, I thought I needed to be more reserved, put together, and very filtered in what I say.
The problem people have with being more authentic (including myself initially), is that they don't even know how to. We have been brought up with these social "norms" to adhere to, beliefs of what is right and wrong, and behaviors that are considered acceptable.
The fear of not being accepted is too scary to bare, so we just oblige with what is requested of us, and dim ourselves to fit in.
Fast forwarding to my "Ah ha!" moment...I was finding that I was getting recognized more, getting asked to be on more projects, and be involved in larger discussions the more I acted like myself, and not who I thought I needed to be.
Over time, the more I was myself at work, the easier it became and the quicker I was promoted into the next title. Since that moment that I decided to just be myself, the following steps are what I would use as my guide or my "gut check" as I've grown into my leadership role. I've found that these work the best for me, and have seemed to resonate well with others that I have worked with or managed.
This one is very important. No one likes working with, or even being around someone who has zero clue or will acknowledge their shortcomings. No one is fucking perfect, and you aren't expected to be. Own your insecurities, your weaknesses, and what you need to improve on. No one will know everything, and I can promise you your boss doesn't even know everything. There will always be something new to learn, ways you can grow, and evolve yourself. By not being aware and accepting of your current limitations, I can promise you that it will only hinder your growth, and you will most likely project that insecurity onto your team which will actually highlight your shortcomings even more. I'm not saying you should go into work or walk through life as a hot mess every day self deprecating yourself, but if there is something you know you should improve on, don't act like you do it perfectly or start judging others.
A way you can be more self aware, is asking for more feedback. The only way you can know how you are perceived to others, or fully identify what needs improvement is understanding other peoples points of view to see if they align with your own. Try not to harp on this, because ultimately this should be used as more of a market research project. If you get negative feedback, don't go into a dark spiral of shame. Thank the person for bringing that piece of feedback to your attention, and then use it as an opportunity to work on making progress in that area.
Know your core values, and be clear with them. Honoring and reflecting back on your core values, will help keep you aligned with your authentic self. They represent what we stand for, how we behave, and provides us our own personal code of conduct.
Trusting your instincts will play a role for this. If something feels off, and you know you aren't doing anything wrong when someone is projecting their own issues to make you feel that way, then most likely your feelings are correct. Trust that your instincts are telling you your feelings are valid, and your authentic self is trying to shine through. By allowing your actions to be in line with your core values, you are being authentic.
Make sure you are taking care of yourself, and are setting appropriate boundaries with not only work but also with life. I know this is easier said than done, but how on earth are you supposed to continue to provide for others, and take from your own well when you are running on empty? If you are constantly spreading yourself in 100 different directions, then you're only able to give 1% to each direction. Wouldn't you rather just say no, or set more realistic timelines with others so you can ensure you are giving something your all rather than fall short in the deliverable? At the end of the day you are only hurting yourself, because you are not giving yourself the time or the respect that you so freely give to others.
A rule of thumb you can follow....if you feel like you are being forced to do something, or doing it out of an obligation rather than an actual desire, then you should either say no or push to a time that you are actually able to give your full attention. Also, if you feel as though you are constantly being taken advantage of where people will so easily take your time and energy for themselves without being considerate of how it is impacting you, then you need to make sure you are keeping your distance from those people.
Vulnerability & Honesty
Always be transparent, always be honest, and don't avoid those hard conversations. This does go both ways, so having your own point of view with your boss is important. Something I ALWAYS tell my team, is if I don't know what is wrong, then I cannot help you.
If you are always honest, then you shouldn't worry about blindsiding anyone. This isn't saying you should be telling the team all the gossip you hear on the regular, but if there is an update that will ultimately impact the team in a way, then there is nothing wrong with keeping your team in the loop on certain topics.
As far as having those hard conversations go...you just have to do it. You are only hurting yourself and potentially your team in the long run. No one likes having them, and they can be awkward, but by not having them you're only enabling the behavior that needs correcting.
The ability to deeply understand someone's needs and motivations. The act of listening, is to create a space for others to provide ideas openly, while having an "inclusive" environment where people can express their concerns without feeling they will be reprimanded or that they are expressing invalid feelings. Even if what they are saying seems extreme, do not discredit how they are feeling. Their feelings are valid, and shutting them down immediately will not make them feel they can voice their concerns in an effective way.
Finding balance in these situations is key. You want to allow for a judgemental free space, but also ensure they aren't just using this time for a free vent session. Allow for that moment of expression so they can get it off their chest, but afterwards try to redirect the conversation into a potential brainstorming opportunity. This allows others to feel they have a stake in making change in the workplace, and that you value their opinion. As a leader, you want to guide their energy and focus in a direction that is best for them and their personal growth.
Empowering others means to give credit where it is due, acknowledging powerful contributions, and motivating others to work on things that push them to go a little out of their comfort zone while also learning.
A huge pet peeve of mine, is when I see a superior try to conform their direct reports to not surpass them as they continue to grow. So instead of empowering them, they try to belittle and degrade them to feel insecure and that they are not good enough. Eventually people will leave toxic environments like this, and you will end up only hurting yourself. If you see potential in someone, don't try to dim it to boost your own ego. Seeing someone grow based off of the time and energy you put into helping them, is extremely gratifying. If I see someone motivating or giving credit where it is due to others, I would much rather consider them when it comes time for a promotion vs the person who only cares about themselves and how they can step on others to get ahead.
Being a real leader means you are helping your team find what makes them shine, and always supporting them. Without your team, you wouldn't have the end product. So push your team and push yourself. Being authentic shouldn't be a chore, if you just be yourself.
As long as you are always being mindful, and just doing your very best, then that in itself is an authentic leader.
Comment below if you would like me to expand more on any of these above points in future posts!