Halloween, a holiday where adults and children alike don costumes is just around the corner. When I was a child, I absolutely loved this holiday. For me, it was an excuse to dream big about the possibilities of what I could become--an astronaut, a chef, a dancer!
When I was about 8 years of age, I decided that I was going to be a business executive for Halloween. I didn't want to be just any business leader, I specifically wanted to go by the name, Miss Independence! As you can see in the picture on the left, I was quite thrilled with the costume. And yes, your eyes are not fooling you, I actually made a fake conference name tag and all!
Ironically, I didn't know how apropos it was to dress up as a businesswoman on a holiday in which we purposely disguise ourselves in costumes. My childhood self was naive to the hurdles that I would encounter as a woman of Latinx descent in the working world.
When I posed for this very picture, smiling proudly and standing tall as Miss Independence, I believed I could be authentically me as a leader. That little girl in the picture had no idea that the number of Latina executive leaders in the workforce is minuscule--both then and now. I couldn't have anticipated that in my journey through academia and in the technology + business sectors, I’d seen very few (if any) executive leaders and/or professors that were like me. I didn't know that I would have to wear a metaphorical costume to 'cover' parts of me as I struggled with imposter syndrome and a sense of belonging along the way.
While costumes are fun for holidays, wearing them around day to day in order to fit in is like carrying a heavy weight around with you wherever you go.
Most of us have struggled with the thought, will I have to assimilate or change myself to be successful at work? Given my experiences early on, the idea of now having to substantially modulate my identity in order to be accepted by the mainstream sounds absolutely exhausting. Furthermore, with technological advances and our 'always on' and connected' work life, our personal and professional life is becoming more blurry. Because of this, I've made a significant effort to seek and advocate for workplaces that are invested in creating spaces where it is safe and encouraged to show up authentically.
So what does it mean to be authentic at work?
Authenticity encapsulates the expression of ME for the benefit of WE.
Our authentic self comes down to our core--our values, our experiences, our mindsets. True authenticity requires deep self-awareness and mindfulness in order to know when you need to step back, look inward, and ask yourself if you're acting in alignment with these core parts of you. The beauty of this is that when we act in accordance with ourselves, we will in turn show up better for others. Yes, the truism that you need to put on your metaphorical oxygen mask first in order to fully show up for others applies to authenticity as well.
Being free of the heavy weight of hiding behind costumes opens up space for empathy and compassion, which in turn, facilitates genuine connection and collaboration. When you are being to yourself, you give off a genuine sense of trustworthiness, which in turn, makes it easier for your clients and colleagues to trust you. In other words, authenticity leads to deeper connection, loyalty, and even engagement.
What does it take to be authentic?
There are 3 core components, which I refer to as the ABC's of authenticity:
Action: Authenticity is not just a conceptual way of being, it requires behavioral action. You must intentionally take (or schedule) pauses in your day to more deeply connect with yourself in relation to your environment and others. I often recommend taking one minute before and after every meeting to pause and check in with yourself by asking the questions: How am I showing up right now? Am I operating from a place of genuineness or am I just going through motions?
Bravery: Being brave is an essential component to authenticity. We have to overcome our fears of taking off our 'costume' and exposing our imperfections.
Clarity: Being authentic means having a clearly defined sense of purpose and values and reminding yourself of them often. The more front of mind your purpose and values are, the more you can make conscious decisions that act in accordance with them. Be sure to ask yourself these questions often: 1) What are my 5-10 values? 2) What is my purpose? 2) What is my guiding north star?
While it is important to talk about what authenticity is, it is also critical to clarify what authenticity is not. Here are 2 common misconceptions about authenticity:
#1 Authenticity means you must show all of you, across all situations, at all costs. To be authentic does not mean that you have to disclose all the details of your private life, no matter what the situation, in order to be true to you. Authenticity is all about staying curious and aware of who we are being moment-to-moment and making conscious choices to act in accordance with one's values and purpose. Healthy vulnerability recognizes when to share and when to remain silent--it's the moment-by-moment awareness can guide you towards making these decisions.
#2 Authenticity means 100% consistency in your actions. True authenticity is not rigid. You can be authentic while also being flexible. Adapting your communication, actions, or behavior and remaining true to you are not mutually exclusive. You can find ways to still be in alignment with your core values and purpose while also being a flexible person. It's all about looking for the shades of grey.
What is the cost of inauthenticity?
Let's face it, we're wired to be authentic. Survival of the kindest, not the insincere is what allowed us to thrive and survive as a race. We all know that feeling of when we have compromised on our core values or sense of integrity...it is often a visceral and physical sensation. On the other hand, we also know the feeling of when we make an integrity-aligned decision...we feel energized and engaged. When we don’t bring our authentic selves to work, ourselves and our workplaces suffer from lack of engagement, sub-par productivity, and poor interpersonal connection. Furthermore, spending large amounts of cognitive energy trying to say the right thing or fit in or wear the right 'costume' is downright exhausting. This effort can impinge on the physical and mental energy required to be creative and do your best work. For teams and organizations, holding back on an important thought or idea out of fear of not fitting in stifles psychological safety, the type of environment that research has shown is required for teams to perform at their highest level.
How do you make workplace authenticity work for you?
In addition to action, bravery, and clarity, it pays to seek out organizations that reflect your personal values. When you do, it is much easier to act in alignment with your value and purpose at work. You can also look for organizations that are committed to fostering a greater diversity of styles and values.
I'm happy to be able to say that on the day that this picture of me was taken, when I wholeheartedly believed that I could be authentically me as leader, I wasn't wrong. It does take work, a solid workplace culture that stems from leaders who truly want to build a whole person work culture, and of course, courage, but it is possible. Let's save our 'costumes' for Halloween.
“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power." --Lao Tzu
- Many people hide their authentic self because they feel it will help their career and/or they cannot find places that offer psychological safety do practice authenticity.
- Successful people are often the most authentic.
- Wearing a “costume” comes with a heavy cost.
- Authenticity can easily be misunderstood.
-To be authentic you should Act, Be Brave, Be Clear.
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