The Authenticity Challenge

By Catherine Meyer CEO, Catalyst Leadership Solutions

There has been a lot written about authenticity as an essential characteristic of successful leaders.  Yet in my own experience and that of my clients and colleagues who have worked in a corporate setting, this is something that is sorely missing at the leadership level and throughout many organizations.   Why is it so hard to be authentic at work?

Leaders constantly face situations that challenge their ability to lead in an authentic manner.  Often the very culture of the organization either inhibits their ability to be authentic or promotes politics that have them spending more time managing perceptions than doing real value added work.  In such an environment, inauthentic behaviors can unconsciously become part of a leader’s behavior, affecting their ability to impact the organization in ways they did not intend. The irony is that the more time and energy spent managing perceptions and trying to fit someone elses idea of success, the less likely the leader will actually enjoy any real success. In such situations, many do not achieve goals that are meaningful to them and may struggle to find meaning in their work at all.

What happens when we continue to adapt ourselves to meet others’ expectations of how we should act to satisfy the shifting needs of multiple stakeholders? We start to lose a sense of who we are and what we stand for. We lose confidence and feel off centre. Fear starts to drive much of our behavior even if we don’t realize it. We are afraid of making a mistake, appearing vulnerable, or losing status. We look for external “rewards” and gratification to rationalize what we are doing and how we are living our lives. We have a nagging feeling at times that something is missing from our lives but don’t understand what it is because we are, after all, checking off all the right boxes that are supposed to be the hallmarks of a “successful “ life.

To be a more authentic leader requires us to have courage and compassion for ourselves.  It means we have to face our fears and get back in touch with what really matters to us. When we pay attention to what we really want instead of what we think others expect of us, our vision and goals for our life and work become clearer. This is not about being selfish. Of course we consider the needs and expectations of the organization, stakeholders, our team, and the people who are important in our lives. We just shift to an internal locus of control, centred in who we are as we take action to achieve our goals.

The reward for taking the risk is greater peace of mind and sense of self, greater resilience and feeling like we are living on purpose, not just going through the motions.  For our organizations, the reward is greater engagement, innovation, and passion when people can bring their whole selves to their work.  This is the foundation of real lasting sustainability and success. It is also the foundation of true leadership.

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