These days everyone is talking about “authenticity”. It seems like the latest trend or buzz word, but what does it really mean at the workplace when someone says “bring your true self” or “bring your whole self”? Is it a wise thing to do? Intuitively it seems like the right thing to do and it’s hard to deny its appeal.
Don’t be fooled by the marketing! “There is such a thing as being too honest, and the lion can be perilously thin.” warns Herminia Ibarra, a professor at business school INSEAD in Paris and author of the Harvard Business Review article titled, “The Authenticity Paradox” and book “Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader.” Ibarra argues that a naïve and simplistic understanding of authentic leader ship can backfire fast.
Here are some of the things you risk against being too “authentic” at work:
Making bad decisions
As you move into a bigger roles, the value-based choices and decisions that were shaped by the past experiences can lead us astray. This will cause you to be extremely rigid in the way you think about authentic leadership that you may be overlooking decisions routed in data. The empirical data could say go left however you decide to go right due to your value-based judgement in a deeply-seated definition of being authentic.
Might start rationalizing poor performance and results
Depending on how a person defines authenticity, to some, authenticity may just be a cover for poor results and performance. You may hear excuses such as, “that’s just my style” as an easy defence mechanism to receiving constructive feedback and this could be the kind of mindset that really sets you back from further growth.
So you want to be authentic to your true self? What does this even mean? Which version of you are you being true to? It’s a bit of a slippery slope as you internalize through this definition. The notion of being authentic seems simple, intuitive and even congruent to how you feel, but how would you measure this in a concrete way? The danger is that some may stay in their comfort zone and just might just get stuck there forever.
Credibility down the hole
How would you feel if your manager admitted to their fear or inadequacy in the job? Would you question their ability to lead? Would you start to undermine their authority? At times, vulnerability can be empowering, but some things are better shared in private among family and friends. Think about this next time when you feel the urge to spill the beans in the effort of being collaborative and transparent to your team members. It may feel good at the moment, but others may be seeing you through a different light.
No buy-ins from others
Some professionals confuse being authentic by doing what feels right or most comfortable at the time, but when you behave in a way that goes against the expectations or what’s necessary to succeed in a particular role, you may be setting yourself up for failure. When working in another country, you have to adopt and adjust to their cultural norms, so why wouldn’t do the same for the company you work for? It may be necessary to adjust your style to the environment in order to succeed, even if it initially feels fake.
In order to avoid these trip wires, try evolving towards an adaptively authentic way of leading. Think of leadership development as trying on possible selves rather than working on yourself. Try to adopt an attitude where we are more open to possibilities. Always remember that it’s OK to be inconsistent one day to the next. Think of them as experiments to figure out what’s right for the new challenge and the environment that we face.