By: Dana Poul-Graf, Founder & Strategic Thought Partner, Key&Spark
My client, a leader in a worldwide corporation, is grappling with authenticity.
At issue: resistance to a specific change. But it’s not the first; he’s felt the need to adjust himself many times over the years due to feedback from colleagues and peers.
“Will I still be me if I act as others tell me?” he asks. “How far can I go and still be an authentic me?”
Maybe you’re crunching through how to stay true to yourself while adapting to the avalanche of change our world is in.
Perhaps you've received surprising feedback as you've shifted to online work, which puts a different pressure on your way of communicating, negotiating, and connecting with your business partners.
Maybe, like my client, you’re feeling that same resistance to change. You fear you might be losing yourself in the required, constant adjustments.
I get it. It might not feel good, but many times, we must adjust. Life, organizations, and the world change constantly. We must adapt constantly, too.
But the question remains valid:
How far can you adjust your behavior without losing your authenticity?
To find the right - for you - response, let's first look at what it means to be authentic.
In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which a person's actions are congruent with their beliefs and desires, despite external pressures to conformity. Wikipedia
Simon Sinek says “The things you say and the things you do you actually believe.”
Both the existentialistic definition as well as Simon’s explanation already assume that you have a high level of self-awareness - you need to be clear about your beliefs and desires to align your actions with them. It also implies that you don’t let the outside world dictate how you show up.
"What are your beliefs?" I ask my client.
There is a long silence.
“I understand you need time to think,” I say. “What are your desires for the different areas of your life?”
If’you’re like most people, you need time to shape a response to these simple-sounding questions. However, being clear about your beliefs and desires can impact your performance, your engagement at work, and, ultimately, your level of happiness and fulfillment.
During our session, I took my client on a brief journey through five ways to grow and adjust while nurturing your authenticity. Here’s the journey for you, as well.
5 ways to adjust and grow while nurturing authenticity
1. Invest in self-awareness.
Self-awareness is the key to successful leadership in work and life. It’s not a destination. Knowing your preferences will help you consciously choose the best response to what’s going on around you. Self-awareness is the first step to honing your emotional intelligence, which accounts for 58% of performance at work in all types of jobs, as Jean Greaves and Travis Bradberry state in “Emotional Intelligence 2.0”.
You’ve likely heard people say things like: “I never deliver on time. I always fail when on stage. I don’t do well with numbers. I don’t remember names.” These are the limiting stories we tell ourselves daily.
Many people use those limiting beliefs—which represent their understanding of who they are—as excuses to stay in their comfort zone. They unknowingly stick with their stories. They don’t progress. They stagnate.
But that’s not how we’re designed. We’re dynamic creatures. Truly getting to know your “self” is a journey, where you monitor and notice the evolution you’re going through as you gain new experiences.
2. Be specific about your values, beliefs, and desires.
Invest reflection time and gain clarity on the values that you honor, the beliefs you’ve formed throughout your life and your visions for the future in different aspects of life. Knowing these things will make your decision-making straightforward.
When faced with a decision, ask yourself: “Is this decision aligned with my values, beliefs, and desires?” Then sit quietly with the question. The response will come.
3. Stay true to your values, beliefs, and desires. It pays off.
It’s okay to say “no,” or to leave or resign, if what’s requested of you is truly not in alignment with your values, beliefs, and desires. However painful it may be, and whatever consequences it may bring in the moment, staying true to yourself will pay off in the long run.
4. Nurture a frictionless mind.
While it is essential for you are as a leader to be clear in your values and opinions, it is equally important to not stick to your version of the story. The most authentic, successful leaders, as also the work of Prof. Herminia Ibarra confirms, are open to adjusting their opinions and worldview when presented with facts and convincing arguments.
5. Make learning a life-long process
To choose the path of becoming truly authentic is to choose the path of growth and improvement. It is to choose discomfort. So buckle up! You’re venturing into an unknown but exciting space!
"How is this related to authenticity?" my client asks.
So much has been written about authenticity and authentic leadership. To answer that question, it seems that all you need is Google and a pot of coffee.
The trouble is that there is no list of to-dos to follow that will lead to you being authentic. And the paradox is that authenticity without broader context and understanding can become a trap, just as it does with self-awareness.
“Authenticity” can become an excuse to not adopt new behaviors, or to not experiment with approaches. You may stagnate out of fear of discomfort.
And you won’t find the right approach for what’s required by the changing environment. This, in turn, may lead to you not adapting fast enough. It may limit your success and ding your credibility. Ultimately, it may lead to you not being—and not being seen as—an authentic leader.
Be prepared to experiment, learn from your failed attempts, and adjust your approaches accordingly.
But beware of the resistance your brain will throw at you. It means well; it just wants to protect you. Your brain will fight you and bring many (sound, logical) reasons and justifications for why you should not change, adapt, and evolve.
The good thing is… now you know. You know to nurture a frictionless mind and to not stick to whatever version of yourself no longer serves you.
I asked my client one more question: “Who do you want to become tomorrow?”
This time, he had a clear response. He didn’t hesitate. And I’m sure you won’t either.
Don't know where to start? Would you like to explore your values, beliefs and desires? Do you know what makes you authentic but are struggling to translate those elements to words and actions? Or maybe you keep experiencing ups and downs, and don't seem to be able to consistently break through your comfort zone?
Book a free intro call. We'd love to help you to meet your future self.