While we’re on the topic of authenticity… What would you really do to become more authentic? What does it look like? How do you know when you are there?
Let us assure you that authenticity has nothing to do with those habits that you may have become attached to and you refer to by saying, “that’s just part of who I am”, or “that’s how I was raised”, or even “(some person you respect) lived by this”, or “I can’t help it, that’s the way I’m wired”. Some of those behaviors or habits may, indeed, be helping you build relationships, success and a great life, and some of them may be relics left from a different phase of your life, a different environment, a different culture or set of expectations or goals. That’s when you should really be looking at shifting those habits and letting go of them and stop identifying yourself in terms of them.
There is a huge difference between who you really are, and who you appear to be. Who you really are doesn’t change, but who you appear to be may change dramatically depending upon who you are with, the role you need to play to get results in the current situation, and the specific goal you are pursuing right now. Great leaders have the ability to meet people where they are, in the way they need to be reached, in order to be effective and get the job done. Holding fast to rigid habits and insisting that others need to adjust to you is seldom a winning strategy.
When we talk about growth as a leader, we often talk about “getting out of your comfort zone”. This means taking some risks with new ways of behaving, thinking or feeling to see where your typical “pattern” could use some improvements, some new perspective, or simply a few new variations that make you more effective as a leader. If you want to increase your level of authenticity, look closely at your normal habits, and think about one or two that may be holding you back in an important way. Perhaps with a key individual, on a troublesome project, or in mastering a skill key to your career or business goals.
One of the signs that you have become rigid in your thinking or habits is that you create judgments against people who behave differently. You begin to assign “right” and “wrong” to behaviors and habits that you see, and typically “right” habits are the ones you have (since you adopted them originally to be effective) and “wrong” habits are those that conflict with your own. You create habits around personal values.
One client has a strong value around being fair and respecting others. His typical behavior to honor this value is to be very open and honest, and to listen to the concerns of others and take them into account. This is working pretty well for him. However, he feels conflict with a colleague who takes less time to listen and respond to others, because he feels that this behavior isn’t “fair”. In reality, they share the value of fairness, but they have made different behavioral choices about how to demonstrate fairness. The colleague who listens less has chosen to demonstrate fairness by giving his time to specific priorities which he feels can impact the business most, and help him deliver the best value for the business – and to him this is the fair thing to do given his position and expectations for his role.
There is no one answer for how to demonstrate fairness in your behavior, but by attaching ourselves to one specific set of behaviors, we judge other ways of behaving as violating that value in some way. The first step to exploring new ways of behaving is to stop judging other choices, and accept that there are many ways to honor core values – not just the one that feels most comfortable to you, and to consider that you might want to include new behavioral definitions in your own arsenal.
Authenticity is driven by your personal values, and not by one specific way of behaving to honor those values. There are truly very few “wrong” or “right” behavior choices – just effective or ineffective choices for any given situation. To remain authentic and exercise flexibility and fearless leadership, always honor your values, but prepare to adjust or “flex” the way you honor them.
Experiment with behavior. Think creatively about alternative ways of honoring your values. Seek what works and what moves you forward and change in order to more perfectly express who you are, your values, your goals.