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Authenticity, what does it really mean?

8 August 2018
By Sue Rosen, Careers Coach, MBA program
There’s a lot of buzz around at the moment about being an authentic leader and bringing the real you to work, but what does that mean for how you behave and interact with others?

Does it mean you should air your opinions at every opportunity? Does it mean that you should tell the new guy in the office that you have no interest in hearing about last night’s footy match? Or share details of your personal life?

And if you become authentic now does that mean that you weren’t yourself before? If you have to learn to be authentic then how authentic are you being now? Who is the real you?

As you move through education, professional training and the corporate world you may feel compelled to mask some aspect of your personality to conform more closely to what you perceive as the required profile for progression. This may result in you not being perceived by others as “authentic” because, without knowing exactly why, they can tell that what they are seeing is not “the real deal”.

And there is a fine line between fitting in with societal and organisational norms so that you can build rapport with those around you and losing your individuality, which is actually what will allow you to stand out from the crowd as a leader.

So, what is authenticity?

Respected author Bill George (Discover Your True North) identified authenticity as knowing what is really important to you and then aligning your actions with your values so that you can consistently practice and convey your values to others. It means to get in touch with what is really inside your heart so that you can discover or rediscover your passions and learn to let your heart lead you as well as your head.

How can I become an authentic leader?

1. Understand your own story

You need to understand your own story so you can figure out what really motivates you and find ways you can stay true to yourself whilst juggling work, family, personal health and social life.

Question the stories you tell yourself about who are and what you do and explore the events that have shaped you.

Learn to articulate your core values and continually challenge yourself to live by them.

Ask for honest feedback from people you trust and be open to the learning it will bring.

Push yourself out of you comfort zone and take risks.

Investigate what gives you a sense of meaning in your work.

2. Improve your connections to others

Build empathy by taking an interest in your colleagues, asking them about their lives outside work and genuinely listening to their responses.

Pay attention to the mood of the people around you as emotions are highly contagious, and as a leader, yours are particularly influential.

Be willing to demonstrate vulnerability, and accept that the leader does not have to hold all the answers, encouraging others to put forward their ideas.

Share something of your personal life with your people – it is not about baring all but sharing an aspect which will help build rapport, as people will start to see you as a real person not just the boss.

Give constructive feedback based on strengths, and express gratitude for the efforts of your team.

Care about the work your people do and let them know what it means to you.

3. Connect to the organisation

Be really clear on the purpose of the organisation, and who and how it serves the community.

Ensure that your values are aligned with those of the organisation.

Articulate a compelling vision for the organisation.

Ensure that behaviours accepted within the organisation are in line with its purpose and values so that the culture becomes one where employees feel safe being themselves.

Develop resilience by celebrating achievements yet also allowing for failures to be learning experiences.

“This is who I am, take me or leave me!”

It can be so tempting to say this but if you want to truly reach your potential as a leader you must be willing to keep learning and growing and adapting to new situations.

When we face challenges, it is even more tempting for us to rely on our usual behaviours but to achieve growth we must move out of our comfort zone and do things which may not come naturally. This may mean that we need to “fake it until we make it” because we need to learn from the experience of doing something new.

We all know that in different social settings we instinctively adapt our style of communication – how you banter with your mates at a bar may be a long way from how you speak at a corporate function and yet it doesn’t mean that one is inauthentic. It indicates that you are tuning in to the social signs about what is acceptable. Building both your self-awareness and your social intelligence is key to developing your own authentic leadership style as well as being perceived as an authentic leader by others.

As Muhammed Ali once said, “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

Find out more about how our MBA Careers Service, available to all MBA students, will provide you with coaching, career management tools and resources to help you refine your career goals and navigate the recruiting process.

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