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Becoming More Authentic in Your Life and Leadership

AUTHENTICITY: What happens when your love of truth becomes more important to you than what others think of you.

As we work with clients in our coaching practice at The Restoration Project, we ask for feedback on what common themes are keeping leaders from being their best or what topics they believe could help them and their teams get to the next level. Authenticity comes up over and over. So we spent some time exploring what it is, what it isn’t, and why it’s important.

Through social media, we asked our followers: What is authenticity? How do you know someone is being authentic or not?

One person said: It’s that gut feeling, that instinct that can’t be explained with words, and that intuition. I’ll add that the eye contact enforces those gut feelings if in person or the projected tone of voice if virtual.

Another shared, When someone is truly interested in listening to your ‘why’ behind your ‘what’, without judgment.

Additional answers included:

  • CONSISTENCY…. EVENTUALLY fake people crack

  • The relationship isn’t one sided and there aren’t ulterior motives. I can always tell an authentic relationship personally or professionally if I’m not the only person reaching out to make time together for discussions or otherwise. They hold conversations with you and share their opinions. No robotic responses.

  • Recently for me – it’s when someone does a follow-up or a check-in. It might be the next day or a week or two – but that follow-up/check-in tells me that they were committed to our conversation, were interested in the outcome and continued to think about the conversation even after it ended.

In the work we’ve done with clients and our research, here is what authenticity has come to mean to us: Your intentions and internal world line up with your actions and external world. What you say and how you act are congruent and aligned to what you believe. You are being yourself…your best self.

That sounds good in concept, but what actions can we take in order to be more authentic?

  1. Speak your opinions honestly, in a healthy way

  2. Make decisions that align with your values and beliefs

  3. Listen to the inner voice guiding you forward (vs. outside influences)

  4. Pursue your passions

  5. Allow yourself to be open hearted and vulnerable

  6. Set boundaries and walk away from toxic situations

The first step in becoming a more authentic leader is to increase our self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Most of us aren’t aware of who we are, what we want, and have no idea how we are impacting the world around us. We have to do some deep work to understand and be honest about our perceptions, beliefs, values, thoughts, words and actions. This requires us to (1) understand and own things like our values and beliefs, strengths and weaknesses, passions and gifts, (2) make time to evaluate and assess how we want to be known and want to make people feel, (3) get feedback and create further alignment.

We also have to adopt some mindsets that are counter cultural. To become more open and vulnerable than most of us are comfortable being. Being authentic requires a good deal of vulnerability.

Here are some mindsets that authentic leaders hold true:

  • They know they aren’t perfect and don’t have all the answers.

  • They are open to feedback and other perspectives.

  • They are committed to learning, growth and change.

  • They learn from failure and surround themselves with people who have knowledge and experiences they don’t.

  • Authentic leaders stay in pursuit of becoming the best version of themselves, and create safe space that allows others to do the same.

Some would say authenticity is a state of being, but like love – which many would say is also a state of being – it’s also an action that requires choice and practice. Here is another way of looking at authenticity from one of our favorite people, Brene Brown:

Authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It’s a practice – a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make everyday. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

Here are some questions to help you become more honest and aware of who you are so that you can live and lead more authentically:

  • What are my strengths?

  • What are my limitations?

  • How am I feeling?

  • How am I contributing to this situation?

  • What am I believing?

  • What is mine to do?

Now that you know a bit about what authenticity is, and have some ideas of how you can live and lead more authentically, let’s talk about what it is not. Despite what culture might tell you, true authenticity is not saying whatever you want, showing up however you want, and doing whatever you want.

This complete disregard for anyone or anything else is the Authenticity Trap that we have to work to avoid when exploring this topic. Left to our own devices and allowed to operate from our first reactions, most of us would not be representing our best selves. It’s only when we are challenged by others, or to consider a greater purpose than our selfishness that we rise to operate from our highest self.

“Be your self, but be your best self” is something one of my favorite leaders said so often I made him a paperweight with the saying on it. It challenged me to consider how to be authentic while always working to get better. Another favorite saying that helped me as a young leader was “Don’t buy into your first reaction.” Authentic leaders are consistent and real, and that requires work and wisdom.

We have to balance what is true to ourselves and what is respectful to all. What is best for us and what is best for all. There will be sacrifices. We won’t always get our way. We will be challenged to think differently and learn new ways of doing and being. Authentic leaders are always growing. What will not be present is fear or resentment. Authentic leaders operate from a place of openness and compassion that is expansive. If you find yourself protecting, defending, and closing down, you are likely in the authenticity trap.

Here are some other indicators you are caught in the authenticity trap:

  • Not considerate of other peoples’ time

  • Exhibit impatience

  • Engagement in complaining or gossip

  • Tearing others down or jealousy of others’ success

  • Unwillingness to bring others along and ensure they understand

The best way to check if you are in the authenticity trap is to come back to your heart. Are you truly being your best self? I have a client who swears a lot, even in the workplace. It bothers, even offends some of her co-workers. Her behavior has real consequences to her: loss of respect from her co-workers, perception of her among clients, etc. Her organization has determined they want her to continue to work on reducing the swear words but it’s not a fireable offense. At the end of the day, I point her back to herself. What’s most important to her and what is she willing to live with?

As leaders of an organization, group or even a family, we have to decide what’s OK and what’s not OK. We have to help people understand why, and what the consequences will be. This is why clearly stated values and expectations are so important. This is why trust, connection and coaching are imperative inside effective teams. Creating an environment that allows people to navigate the gray areas of authenticity…to show up as their best self…takes a lot of work!

Here are some questions that can help keep us out of the authenticity trap:

  • What is in my control?

  • What do I need to release?

  • What can I allow?

  • Who am I being?

  • How am I impacting the world around me?

  • How can I let others in?

Authenticity is so important in our life because you only get one and you don’t want to regret it. Don’t just float through life being or becoming someone you don’t intend to. Don’t go through life blaming and complaining, playing the victim and giving all your power away. What do you want to contribute? How do you want to impact the world? What are your unique gifts? What matters most to you?

Authenticity is so important in our leadership because you have to have trust, connection and good relationships to lead well, and you can’t build solid relationships without showing people who you really are. In a world where we are faking it and we are divided, showing up authentically allows us to bring unity, healing and is the only way we get things done together. It can be safer and easier to put on a mask or armor, but there is too much at stake for that.

Written by: Lindsay Leahy, Dream Builder at The Restoration Project

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