When I first stepped out of consulting to join a small start-up, I was intrigued by some of their practices. Leaders started every meeting asking people what they were glad-mad-sad about.
After being introverted and diffident all my life (my only D’s in B-school were for class participation!), that is the place I first learned to express myself.
But more than that, I learned to BE myself. Even at work. Wholly and completely.
Bill Bryson, the coach to leaders at Apple, Google and other Silicon Valley greats, believed this is a critical ingredient of success.
Bill brought his whole, authentic self to work, and encouraged his coachees to do the same. To proudly own their identity – gender, race, orientation, all of it.
In my view, it extends to owning who we truly are deep within. Our core values, life purpose, all our gifts and talents.
When we can bring all of these to work, true magic happens! We don’t waste effort compartmentalising ourselves into pieces. Our full energy and magnificence is available to be tapped.
However, there is a legitimate counter view to this as well. Is this always possible in large, traditional companies?
Does authenticity jeopardise success, or is it possible to embrace both?
I loved Adam Grant’s podcast on the topic of ‘effective authenticity’ which helped nuance this theme further.
Two things stood out for me:
1. First establish competence and trust. Yes, there is space for being human and vulnerable, or even for challenging norms. But it’s better done once we’ve demonstrated credibility and the right intent.
Take Jacinda Ardern as an example. She endears us with her authenticity. But would it have worked if she weren’t also swift, decisive and responsive to crises?
2. Remember that we are evolving beings. There isn’t just one authentic self. Growth is about pushing our boundaries, trying on our multiple selves to see what works best in a particular context.
So when I feel out of my depth, saying ‘This is not for me’ may not be the only possibility. I could say instead ‘What best version of me can I bring to this?’
Finally, as leaders, we have to remember that authenticity starts from the top. The example we model is what percolates through the rest of the organisation. If we can demonstrate that it is okay, in fact, encouraged, to be our real self – we give permission to everyone else to do so as well.
What are your thoughts? What are the merits and challenges of authenticity? And as leaders, how do you bring your whole self to work, and encourage others to do the same?