What does it mean to be “Authentic”?

Authenticity CompassWe often encounter clients who resist trying out new behaviors because they are concerned about not appearing “authentic”.  The word authentic has been used so much in leadership circles without being accurately defined, so here’s an approach that we suggest.

Authenticity starts with defining “who” you really are.  We know that you are not just your physical body, your thoughts, your feelings or even your actions.  Your core being is your intentions about who you want to be in the world, what you want to create, how you will influence others and the values you will embody.   All other aspects of you are fundamentally malleable and flexible.

So, first and foremost, get clear about the “Who” you really are at your core.  What really matters to you?  What do you hope people say about you after you are gone?  What difference do you want to make in the world?

The next critical piece is the “What” of your current situation.  What is your vision for what you are trying to create right now?  What results are critical for you or your team?  How will you measure your success?  Establish the goal and the feeling you and others will have when you achieve it.

Once you are clear on who you are and what you are trying to achieve, the “How” becomes much clearer.  Specific behaviors and habits either serve your “Who” and “What” or they do not.  They cannot change who you are in any way.

Remember your teenage or young adult years when you might have tried out new ways of behaving?  Maybe you dressed like someone you admire, or adopted certain speech habits to fit in with a particular group, or took up new hobbies or sports or habits.  None of those experiments changed who you were, but they allowed you to play with the kinds of reactions, results and life that each of those choices created for you.  You probably kept some of those experimental choices, and most likely there were others that you discarded along the way.

Leadership is an empirical science.  You learn about what works by trying it out.  If you are introverted, and it’s holding you back, experiment with new ways of speaking up, meeting new people, or being the center of attention.  If something seems to take you closer to your goal, keep it.  If it doesn’t, then try something else.  None of these experiments make you a different person or less authentic, but they do allow you to grow and improve and become a more effective leader.

The most effective leaders are those who can rapidly adapt their approach to meet their goals in a given situation.  They can be empathetic or clinical, talkative or thoughtful.  They have a natural preferred style, but they can also step out of their comfort zone to meet the needs of others and move their agenda forward.

Don’t fear experimentation in your thoughts, behavior and habits – it’s the key to discovering new more effective patterns for leadership and learning how to work productively with many different kinds of people.  Flex how you show up, not who you are.  There’s a big difference, and “how you show up” is a choice.

What made you successful in one job, with one boss, in one industry, may be the very thing that is holding you back in the present. Don’t be attached to an outdated version of you.

Fearless leaders experiment with new techniques, styles and habits to find the most effective combination to reach their goals.