Authenticity: Yay or Nay?
Do you ever encourage authenticity in the workplace but wonder if maybe it’s too much? By this, I mean, have you encountered people in your lives who are authentically just not the best? Another term for the people I’m thinking of is “jerks”. How do you reconcile authentic behavior at work with people who are authentically inconsiderate, unkind, and perhaps obnoxious too?
Merriam Webster defines authentic as “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” In this day and age, we are constantly calling for authenticity. Telling people to speak their truth, erecting safe spaces everywhere we can, and lifting the voices of people who have suffered throughout history. When we call for authenticity, our intentions are usually good, but this term and call to action can be overused.
What do I mean by this? Think of it as the expression, “You do you,” at the core of this comment is separation. One person essentially is saying to another, ‘I disagree with part of this, but don’t care enough to say otherwise.’ It’s an interaction where two people do the best they can for themselves.
When we call for authenticity, it needs to help unite our employees. It should create more inclusion and less division. Ensure that your employees’ authentic selves are helping bring people closer together and not pushing others away. I’m sure we have all experienced people who come off as narcissistic and disrespectful. These types of people often don’t really care about other people’s needs or feelings. These authentic behaviors definitely do not bring people closer together. So, how can we work to exclude this sort of authenticity from our workplaces?
A Lesson in Authenticity
First of all, check yourself as you work to be authentic. Ask yourself, is your focus on yourself or on other people? Your focus needs to be directed outwards towards other people to accomplish the true purpose of authentic behavior. If you are only focusing on behaviors that feel self-fulfilling, you will more often than not exclude those around you without even realizing it.
This leads me to my second point. Proper authentic behavior manifests itself in vulnerability—the good kind of vulnerability. To be truly vulnerable with your employees, you cannot have boundaries that exclude them from getting to know the real you. Again, it’s key that you are focusing outwards. If your attention is directed towards yourself, the people around you will sense this as a barrier to getting to know the real you.
Some people shy away from being vulnerable at work, thinking that vulnerability requires sharing intimate details about one’s life. However, as Kristen Benefiel shares with me in an episode of The Leadership with Heart podcast, it is entirely possible to be vulnerable and yet listen more than you speak.
Understand Your Own Value System
I devote an entire chapter of my most recent book, The Art of Caring Leadership, to the challenge of being authentic. The act of authenticity ties into knowing yourself so well that you can manage your behaviors and actions towards others. In particular, to inspire those around you in their own endeavors. A huge part of the journey towards authenticity is understanding your own value system. What are your motivators, what do you hope to be remembered for?
I promise you that if you put time and care into each step that I mentioned above, your authenticity will be perceived as the compassionate action it is. In addition, you will be authentic in an outward-focused way that helps you present yourself in a welcoming and inclusive manner to those around you.
Let’s weed out the authenticity evoked by expressions like YOLO and “you do you”. Being authentic is a glorious unique trait, but it does not come without careful effort. Leaders, be the example for your teams. Make it so that any “authentic jerks” will see the beauty in the selfless act of real authenticity. The kind of authenticity that brings people together.