The Leader’s Edge: Finding Authenticity

Two business men authentically present.Harvard Business School professor, Francis Frei, has said that the most important element in creating trust in your organization is authenticity. Creating a culture of trust is not so much about what you do as who you are, how you show up, how you communicate: being authentically you! And, as a leader, helping your people do the same.

This may seem like a conflicting message to many of us who were taught to check yourself at the door. We were supposed to take on a work persona, leaving our feelings and our private lives at home. Deloitte research showed that almost half of all white men and up to 83 percent of women, people of color and LGBT individuals hide some important parts of themselves when they are at work.

When this happens, we spend a lot of energy being on guard. Walsh, Craik, and Price in their book, Person-Environment Psychology, illuminate how detrimental this stress is on our health, particularly affecting the immune system.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How safe do I feel to actually say what I need, think and feel?
  • Am I bringing my values to the workplace in my communication and behavior?
  • Do I allow others at work to see where I might be different than they are?
  • Am I comfortable sharing my deepest ideas and thoughts?
  • Am I dedicated to discovering my true nature?
  • Am I able to be appropriately transparent?

Authenticity begins with self-awareness and self-awareness begins in the body. Our gut reactions to the world around us, times when we feel buzzy, prickly, spaced out or shut down are clues to what is happening inside.

Awareness can help us listen to what is needed and take action. Do I need to stop and take a few deep breaths? Would I be able to be more present if I took a break? Do I need to speak up? Hold a boundary? Say no?

Our culture often teaches us to ignore our own needs, yet we pay a high price for that. When we ignore our own desires and needs, part of us shuts down and we have to expend more energy to make it from day to day. With this we are less authentic, which can be felt by those around us.

Take a few moments and make some notes about what comes up when you ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I ever violate my core values at work?
  • Am I as honest as I’d like to be?
  • Do I often “go along to get along,” not saying what I want or need?
  • Do I sometimes feel like an imposter, like I can’t be my true self at work?
  • Do I ever feel that if people at my job really knew me, they wouldn’t accept me?
  • Do I feel comfortable displaying photos of my partner, family, hobbies – things that are important to me – in my office?
  • What would need to happen for me to become more aware? To feel safe enough to show up?

Being authentic means that what we say and what we do are in sync. If we are authentic we are present with the other person and our non-verbal behaviors match our speech.

 “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Non-verbal Communication

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, reports a review of the literature on non-verbal communication and reminds us that 93 percent of our message is communicated non-verbally. This means that our facial expression, tone of voice, our pacing and timing, or the speed at which we are communicating, are all conveying much more than our words. This includes our gestures and our posture.

I can say exactly the same words but with different inflection, a different look on my face and different stance of my body and they will either help the person I am addressing to settle and listen or invite them to shut down and become defensive.

Being authentic is the number one requirement for creating a culture of trust.

It is immensely helpful when we allow room for error. Errors are spaces for learning. In looking at your process of becoming more and more authentic, consider these points:

  • Be sure your actions match your words. For example, if you say you value self-care but you are putting in 12-hour days, that feels inauthentic.
  • Welcome authenticity from your employees: Notice how their expression of vulnerability makes you feel and support that; work with them on their mistakes without judgment; help them meet their needs.

Authenticity is becoming a more and more important aspect of the work environment.

Individuals who experience authenticity from their leaders are more likely to feel safe enough to follow suit. This culture of authenticity promotes greater engagement, job satisfaction, and empowerment. All of this leads to an organization that works together, grows together and prospers together.

Leaders who attend Ryzio – a nine-day retreat with an eight-week virtual follow up program – often report how much they are benefitting from deeper and deeper levels of authenticity in all areas of their lives.

This article was written by Marti Glenn, Ph.D., Ryzio Clinical Director