Imagine speaking to a room full of aspiring business leaders. You ask “who of you wish to be an authentic leader”? Of course, you picture hands raising as very few of us wish to be perceived as disingenuous or insincere, in either our business or personal lives. In a time where authenticity has become a gold standard for leadership, however, it is important to understand the inherent paradox, a tipping point at which too much authenticity, or rather a too limited definition and understanding of what is required in order to be an authentic leader, can hinder both your credibility, as well as your organizational impact and leadership success.
So, when exactly does rigid adherence to the pursuit of authenticity turn into a stumbling block to successful leadership?
First and foremost, true leadership almost always requires us to step out of our comfort zone, take risks, and challenge ourselves and others around us to grow, adapt, improve and change. As a leader, you may regularly be forced to choose between the self you are today, and how you are comfortable doing things, and the self you could be tomorrow, stretching, growing, and leading yourself, your team, or your organization down a new and more successful path. Choosing to remain true to your current self may feel more authentic in the short-term, but growing and changing are integral aspects of leadership. Understanding that growing and changing do not compromise your authenticity is crucial. Personal growth needs to be appreciated as key component of authenticity.
Successful leadership also requires us to inspire others and generate confidence in those who work around us. Blanket self-disclosure and transparency of your every thought, feeling, and insecurity may feel like a very authentic way of leading, but too much disclosure of uncertainty can undermine your team’s confidence in you as a leader. There are few certainties in life, and, as a leader, it is your job to regularly weigh information in order to determine a course of action and then confidently lead others through it, while remaining open to necessary changes as circumstances require. Telling your employees they are an integral component of the team’s success may be both positive and authentic, however, telling a new team that you’re depending on them because you have no idea what you are doing is going too far.
Finally, selling yourself, your visions, and your ideas are another integral component to leadership success. The act of doing this, however, can feel forced and unauthentic to some people, so much so that they avoid doing so at all costs, hoping their work will speak for itself and have the impact they wish it to. This is a naïve and ineffective ideal that can impede leadership and team success. As leaders, we need to understand and accept that the promotion of our ideas, and the act of influencing others, are not selfish pursuits, but ways to create collective team and organizational successes.
For more interesting insight into The Authenticity Paradox read the full HBR article below: