Strolling through the corridors of corporate America, I once found myself wearing a mask that didn't quite fit. It was only after peeling back the layers of expected conformity that I discovered the transformative power of authenticity. Join me on a journey through the heart of genuine leadership, where we examine the delicate balance between professionalism and being your true self. Inspired by Brené Brown's insights on true belonging, our conversation is an invitation to embrace self-acceptance and the courage it takes to present our authentic selves, exploring how this self-honesty can dramatically reduce stress and enhance our effectiveness as leaders.
We delve into the intricacies of how the values instilled in us as children, like my own youthful defiance of authority, shape the principles we carry into adulthood and the way we forge connections. During our discussion, you'll witness the unfiltered version of myself that I bring to my leadership training sessions with Intentionaleaders, aiming to inspire a similar level of candor and transparency. We explore the reciprocal nature of authenticity and its fundamental role in cultivating trust and a genuine sense of belonging in relationships, promising a narrative that challenges and inspires you to consistently present your best and most genuine self in every interaction.
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Hello and welcome to the Intentional Leaders podcast. We are on Episode 129, leading with Authenticity. Welcome to Intentional Leaders. This podcast is not just for leaders, rather for anyone who wants to make an impact on the world, professionally or personally. My passion and purpose is to provide tips, tools and resources that I've learned throughout my career working with large and small organizations, profit and non, and also as an entrepreneur. I've had the joy to teach thousands of individuals who, like you, are trying to navigate this crazy and complex world. So here's to doing that successfully and intentionally. In my professional life, I get to work with a lot of executives and people who are higher up in the organization and I do a fair amount of executive retreats or strategic planning or work with senior executives. And I'm going to tell you a little secret about those experiences for me is I have a hard time being anything other than myself, and what does that do to my stress level? Sometimes it makes it better and sometimes it makes it worse, because my siblings might say that when I was younger, I was a little bit defiant. I didn't like being told what to do. I resisted, I refused to obey something that I thought someone told me to do because they said so, namely my parents. In the work world, the same thing applies. So when I looked up the word irreverent, the definition of a irreverent is a lack of respect for people or things that are generally taken seriously or held in high regard, which of course, senior leaders and executives would be. And I'm not saying I am defiant or unprofessionally irreverent. However, I certainly have a more casual, lighthearted style and tone that is difficult for me to change, and what that means to me is I sometimes am stressed because I'm not trying to conform or fit in to what society might expect me to do or in those leaders. They may look at me and think why are you being playful, why are you being casual and can't you remain serious and professional? I think that's what some people want from me. However, to me that is inauthentic, and you know what I can't be these days it is inauthentic. So what the heck does that even mean? You all know, if you've been listening to me for a while, that I am an absolute fan of Brene Brown, so let look to her for a definition of what this means, and she has some great insights on what it means to be authentic and also how that connects with a sense of belonging. So here's what she said, " true belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are. It requires you to be who you are." Isn't that awesome? I love those words because I think for many of us, we are not showing up as our most authentic self because we feel like we have to belong. And belonging means conforming, and conforming means what are the social standards that I'm supposed to be applying here? When you are with a senior executive, you better button up and be pretty serious and be very professional. For me it would be thinking about what I say, how I say it, trying hard, hard, hard, not to say anything inappropriate or swear any of those things, which is very, sometimes a lot of times, difficult for me to do. But what's interesting about Brene Brown's insights is she said this, "we can only feel belonging only if we have the courage to share our most authentic selves with people. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. I think those are pretty powerful words and authentic leadership means we are rooted in self-awareness, we have integrity, we're transparent and we're purpose-driven. But what is, I think, so surprising to me and it consistently surprises me is that inauthenticity is very common and for some people it is their professional demeanor. So they are very different at work than at home and there's a difference in terms of how they navigate through the world. And I'm not saying that that is totally inappropriate or wrong, but there must be some stress and disconnect associated with literally being two people, based on, maybe, what you believe is expected in your environment or what you believe is appropriate in the environment that you're in, particularly professionally. So I think inauthenticity is so common and there are a lot of challenges to being authentic, and here's some of them. One is the fear of vulnerability. I can't really be myself because I don't want to admit mistakes, I don't want to undermine my authority, my credibility, and so I'll just adapt this facade of perfection that I'm doing it right, I'm doing it well. I have to show you that I know what I'm doing. And that is difficult for us to do as human beings because we're always going to not get it right. And for those of you, and I would include myself in this bucket, who are perfectionists, that is an unattainable goal and over time I've tried to let go of the standards that I had around perfection, not excellence, but being perfect is just not possible, and I've let go of that quite a bit in my life. And just recently I let go of it when I made a mistake with a client and I embarrassed someone unintentionally and I felt really bad about it, but I didn't beat myself up about it. I apologized sincerely, transparently, openly, and then I moved on from it, knowing that mistakes happened. The other, I think, is the pressure to conform. We think, within society or organization, that leadership is supposed to be something, we are supposed to be someone, and I think about all the different leadership classes that I hold and I think people have this image in their head of someone who was a great role model to them and they think, oh, I need to be that person, I need to adopt that leadership style, and that, of course, is very difficult, if not impossible, because we can't be anyone other than ourselves. We can try to mold ourselves into someone else's style or certain characteristics, but it's just not going to work. And what I offer to anyone that I teach or coach is trying to find their authentic leadership style. What is it? What is it in the context of what your organization needs and what you need from leadership as well? I think vulnerability and pressure to conform have a significant effect on us, and I think a third one that's a real biggie is inauthentic environments, environments that are toxic or dysfunctional or discourage any kind of authenticity. And then if we're in that environment and I've been in some environments like this where I don't trust others with my authentic self, so that's when I have to put on a different demeanor, that's when I have to show up differently than maybe what I would in being who I am, and who I am is me bringing my best efforts to the table, because as soon as we are inauthentic, we're trying to mold ourselves and demonstrate characteristics that may not be our true strengths and our true style and who we really are at our core. So when we look at all of this, I think it is important to do a few things to lean into authenticity, and one is that ability to self reflect. I've been doing a lot of work recently with mindsets, and I know I've talked about this on several different podcasts about self-awareness and if I asked you to raise your hand right now, are you self-aware? Approximately 95% of you would say yes. The statistics and research on self-awareness would say that is not true, that about 10% of us are truly self-aware. That self-awareness isn't just reflecting on why we did or didn't do something, but it's about what we are doing, the actions we're taking, what is working, what is not working and the ability to reflect very constructively, looking at what can I do differently to navigate through the world to be more effective. That is true. Self-awareness is the ability to reflect in a constructive, helpful way to move forward. In fact, stephen Covey says that, " self-awareness is our capacity to stand apart from ourselves and examine our thinking, our motives, our history, our scripts, our actions and our habits and tendencies, which, having been working on this for a while, is very, very difficult to do because so much of what we do is unconscious and driven by our subconscious. So self-awareness is the key very difficult to do in practice Taking that time to reflect on what we value, what we feel, our strengths, our development areas, our experiences and recognizing how they shape us every day, because, for the most part, we go through each and every day with a very automatic response to the world. The things that we did yesterday are the same things we do today. We get up, we get dressed, we go to work hopefully we have a nutritious breakfast, haha we brush our teeth. We do all these things, but we don't think about them. We do them automatically. If you think about driving someplace, when you first had to drive, of course, you had to think about it a lot. Now you just get in the car and move right. You're suddenly someplace and you don't think about all the hundreds and hundreds of things that your brain did for you to get you to the destination safely. You aren't thinking about all those things because our subconscious does that all for us and that's pretty cool, but it means that we have a lot of disconnects. So self-awareness and strengthening that is key. Second is embracing that vulnerability and showing your human side. What mistakes did you make? Do you have insecurities? Do you have things you're working on? Have you had a big failure and do you share any of those things with people? We don't have to put on an act to be authentic, because, in fact, putting ourselves out as perfect is very disconcerting to other people and it doesn't demonstrate being a good role model, which I know a lot of people want to do, but perfection is not the way to model success. Vulnerability, transparency and honesty absolutely is. The other thing we can do is being really in touch with what we care about, our values, and when I reflected on values a few years ago, this created a major shift in my life in terms of what I wanted to do and what I didn't want to do and finding out what my purpose was. Those started guiding my actions in a way that I was staying true and more true to my principles. I felt more in integrity with myself. I felt more authentic and, to this very day, I still do. I feel like I can be me and be successful at the same time when I'm living my values and when I'm living my purpose. And then also building those genuine connections. How are the relationships that you have with people around you, the people you work with, how human are they? And do you treat each and every individual that you encounter as a valuable resource? Do you listen to them, what they want, what they need, what they care about, their ideas, their aspiration? Do you do that and create a sense of belonging with them through that sense of mutual respect. So when we look at authenticity, it is absolutely, I believe, a choice that many of us have to make, because at some point when we were growing up we were taught that some things weren't okay for us to do, some things weren't okay for us to be. I was very much characterized as a rebellious, stubborn child, Because that goes back, of course, to my resistance to power and authority. I did not like being told what to do at a very young age and I can remember those incidents. I didn't react well to that. But I think those values of independence and purpose and autonomy still ring true to me today, where I am maybe a little irreverent in situations where I could show up a little bit different, and I do really try to do that. But at my core you're going to get me. So if I ever get a chance to work with you, either in a group or one-on-one, you know that what you see is what you get and I'm not going to put on airs. I'm going to be authentic with you and my hope for all of us is that that is then reciprocal. If I am authentic with you and allow that trust and that transparency. Then you can bring your real self with me, and that is going to be a beautiful relationship that is going to provide a sense of belonging. That is such a joyous experience, so let's try to go there with each other. Interested in learning more about what we do at Intentionaleaders? Check out our new website page under Services, Leadership Training for Organizations. It's going to overview what training we offer for professional development new managers, mid-level managers and C-suite development. I will show up as my best self for you.