How To Be More Authentic At Work—and Why It’s So Important
Executive Coach and Entrepreneur in Residence Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin defines authenticity and lays out a step-by-step plan to achieve it.
Authenticity has been a buzzword in business circles for some time now. I've gone so far as to describe authenticity as the new currency in business—it matters that much, and especially for women leaders as we rise. But why? And what, you might be wondering, does it mean to be authentic at work? Does it mean sharing your personal life all the time, for instance? Far from it. Here's what I tell my coaching clients in response to these important questions. I always say to my clients that my goal is to get them to a place where they can be the same person, all the time, in every area of life. If you feel like you have to be one person at work and another person everywhere else, chances are you've got an authenticity problem. At a speaking event, I was recently asked by a woman in the audience whether she "had" to wear a skirt and high heels to every major meeting, when she generally feels really uncomfortable in heels to begin with. My answer was "absolutely not." Why? Because being uncomfortable in what you're wearing, how you're acting, or how you present yourself will be noticed by others, even if they can't verbalize it. If you appear or feel uncomfortable, you won't be performing at your best, and those in your workplace will wonder why. That means they're not focusing on your work, and neither are you. Notably, however, being yourself at all times doesn't mean sharing your whole life with your workplace. Good boundaries matter. So does privacy. But being comfortable in your own skin does mean that you should feel comfortable being yourself in all moments, everywhere, and especially at critical moments in your career. If you're struggling with feeling comfortable at work, in your own skin or in your current role, hire a coach, find a mentor or see a therapist to uncover strategies to overcome that insecurity. Being yourself isn't just important to your performance—it's important to every aspect of your well-being. Another key feature of authenticity is telling the truth, even when it’s hard. Did you make a mistake on a big project at work? Own the error to your boss, and do whatever it takes to correct it. Is your company in financial trouble, and you may have to cut salaries? Share the information with your staff so that they've got warning, and be kind and compassionate in conveying the choices you have to make. I, personally, have heard senior executives tell stories of how they completely blew a software rollout or a deal, but owned the error with upper management, took responsibility for fixing the problem, and showed their capacity to perform even in the most high-pressure crisis, notwithstanding the error. Those executives, much to their surprise, were often promoted after the crisis, rather than fired. You may have heard the saying "fake it 'til you make it." I'm not a big fan of that sentiment, especially when it comes to skill sets you may be lacking. The best leaders are able to identify gaps in their own knowledge, and admit them, so that they can hire others to fill in where they’re lacking. Why? Because feigning expertise is a sure-fire way to end up with blindspots in your business. Admit what you don't know, and look to hire others who have expertise you don't have. When you do so, you'll also give others permission to admit what they don't know, and your whole team will be able to benefit by thinking strategically about each other's assets to complete those knowledge gaps. So why does authenticity matter so much? Because fundamentally, when we are authentic, others know they can trust us, even at challenging professional moments. I have long been known as "what you see is what you get"—to the point that others joke I'd be the worst poker player in the world (I don't play). The benefit of this is that everyone on my team, every one of my clients, and everyone I interact with knows that I am a straight-shooter and a truth-teller, even when I have to carefully communicate that truth. That makes me trustworthy as a coach, a speaker and a leader. Follow these steps and you will be, too.
Image Courtesy of Ivanka Trump. Graphics: Ben Wagner