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When Authenticity Goes Bad

When Authenticity Goes Bad

Being who you are and saying what you think is not always ideal in leadership


By now, we can all agree that when it comes to leadership qualities, authenticity is the gold standard.  


Authenticity is defined as “the degree to which one is true to one’s personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures”. A rigid understanding of authenticity, however, does not always equate with the complex and nuanced attributes of good leadership.   


How “Authentic” Should You Be?  


Leadership, or “the art of accomplishing goals through the effort of others”, can sometimes run in contrast with being true to yourself. Especially when being yourself means you are a blunt truth-teller with no regard for the feelings of others.   


When being tactless, uncompromising and critical is you at your most authentic, could also be you at your worst. How would you temper these authentic qualities and grow to lead and influence others?  


Being Yourself vs. Being Effective  


Convincing managers to change their behaviours and mindsets to become the best version of themselves is often met with resistance. It is normal for people to resist change, even when they know that change is the best way to move forward.  


Take this manager, for example, charged with leading a small back-office offshore team. She trained the team to implement a process that worked for her in the past. When asked to consider modifying the process to accommodate the needs of the group, she was dismissive. Long story short, it didn’t work out, and the manager was replaced with an offshore counterpart within a year.  


While she was true to what she believes will work, it did not move her team to perform happily and productively. Her firm stance can be justified as behaving authentically. But leadership demands some degree of artfulness and compromise to be effective.  


How to Win at Leadership without Losing Yourself  


1. Ask for feedback   

Being authentic also means being open to learning about yourself by how you seem to others. Walk up to your bosses, peers and direct reports and ask for feedback – the good, the bad and the ugly. Listen and take note without judging, justifying, defending or explaining.  


2. Reflect on yourself    

React to the feedback in two parts –   

Part 1 – Give your authentic self a voice and write down your innermost thoughts. Read them aloud and acknowledge how irrational you sound.   

Part 2 – Now that your emotions are out of the way, it’s time for objective self-analysis. Think about how you can use this feedback to become a better version of yourself.   


3. Commit to a plan   

Start listing your behaviours and attributes in three columns – (1) “stop doing” (2) “start doing” (3) “keep doing”. So that the next time you feel the urge to slide back into bad behaviour, you know what to do instead. 


Learn how to be your best and most authentic self so that you can empower your people to succeed! Reserve your spot today for
The Authentic Leadership Summit featuring Australia’s most trusted leaders.  


Authentic Leadership Summit 2020