Authenticity is probably one of the most powerful leadership tools we have. However, as with any tool, it can be misused and misunderstood. The Webster’s dictionary defines it as “of undisputed origin; genuine.”
To me, authenticity means being who you are, or who you’ve become. Being real. When we attempt to be something other than what we are, we lose ourselves and usually end up very unhappy. Yes, life is a series of playing roles; worker, son, daughter, mother, father, friend, boss, etc., but it is our own authenticity that we bring to each of these roles that defines “who” we are.
At the core of who we are, is our values. Defining these and living them shapes us into our authentic selves. As children, we bounce around testing boundaries, what we can get away with, what gets us praise or punishment, what feels good, etc. Somewhere in there, we find out what works, what helps us survive and hopefully thrive. Getting to the “real” is a journey and we aren’t born that way, yet. If we are lucky enough to have the stars align, identify what our values are and find work and family and friends that are fulfilling, authenticity is a very comfortable home to live in.
If we are not so lucky and have inconsistent role models or life situations that have us continually questioning “who” we are, it may take us a long while to discover our authentic selves, (if ever). We know what we like and don’t like, but truly owning who we are might be unsafe or just simply unknown because of all the different selves we have to be to survive.
Regardless, of how you come to know your authentic self, the sooner you embrace and begin to own it, the better. As individuals, we can help others find their way by “being” ourselves. In the workplace, it means encouraging others to really be in a job or profession that makes them happy and suits their skill set. As an employer, we can help make this fit by really making it “okay” not to be a good fit for certain roles. Using tools such as StrengthsFinder to help people identify their strengths is a great start. Identifying the company’s values and hiring to those is another way to help others find a place where they can be their authentic selves.
As a leader, knowing ourselves is the only way we can help others know themselves. Being vulnerable, sharing stories and being open allows people the space to become authentic.