Some months ago, we explored vulnerability in the workplace as an important leadership trait. Since vulnerability and authenticity are so closely intertwined, we thought it worthwhile to spend some time exploring authenticity in the workplace. Namely, what it is, what it is not, and some ideas for how to cultivate it.
Authenticity Is Not Necessarily Saying Whatever Is On Your Mind
A self-help book appeared on the scene years ago called Radical Honesty, which claims that saying exactly whatever one feels and refraining from putting any kind of filter on the expression of one’s thought or feeling, is the key to individual expression and freedom. It’s a very interesting idea, though perhaps not entirely practical for the workplace.
The workplace is not an environment for unlimited human expression. It is a place dedicated to creating and delivering services and products that generate value in the marketplace – so that people can be employed there and earn a livelihood for themselves and their families.
Therefore, in the workplace we must find a way to be authentic AND sacrifice some of our theoretically-unlimited freedom in consideration of social norms and our co-workers.
Authenticity Is Not About Being Cool And In Control All The Time
Society has conditioned us to think of authenticity in a very specific way – namely, as the quality that makes someone completely cool. It brings up images of a person who is self-assured, relaxed, in control of themselves and their environment, and always having the wittiest comeback.
While authenticity can give rise to these kinds of behaviors, these behaviors do not define authenticity. They certainly don’t define authenticity in the workplace. In actual practice, authenticity is something much closer to home…
Think of it in terms of how we were as small children. At that time, we might have been curious, brave, and vulnerable – until life taught us to create self-protective barriers to shield ourselves from pain… covering up that pure soul.
That pure soul is known by its hallmarks of openness, curiosity, goodwill toward others, and enthusiasm.
Authenticity And Choice
In life we cannot control what is coming at us, but we can control our response. At the moment we are impacted by a stimulus, we can either respond with a pre-recorded unconscious reaction, or from a place of conscious authentic choice.
We prepare our students to respond from a place of conscious authentic choice through the methodology STOP-LOOK-CHOOSE. In short, the methodology describes:
STOP what you are doing. Stop your work. Stop everything. Bring the train to a halt, and shut off autopilot mode. When we do this, we can finally arrive in the present moment and take full stock of the situation at hand.
LOOK at all the options available to you from a place of conscious awareness. Discuss them with your team, and name every potential course of action.
CHOOSE. The third and final step. Given all of the options you’ve surveyed, choose what you perceive to be the best course of action from a condition of conscious awareness.
Authenticity in a person is an expression of a strong value system, and a strong sense of who they are. It is also an invitation for other people to be authentic too, and live their values out in the open, in both word and deed.
No matter who you are or where you work, leaning into authenticity in the workplace means living in accordance with your values and mission. If being authentic in your current place of work is not encouraged, that is a stimulus to which you can choose your response.
You can choose to initiate a change in that work culture, or you can choose to find a culture where you can thrive – one that is a better match for you! After all, life is too short to be carrying on pretending to be something that we are not.
If your current environment won’t support you, there is another place in the world where you are a better fit – one that could be benefiting from the contribution of an authentic and talented person like you.