Whether you are reading about management, leadership or personal development, authenticity is one of those ever present buzzwords. We all strive for authenticity. But can being authentic prevent you from growing?
It comes down to what we mean by authentic. For most of us we think of this as having a clear sense of self, and staying true to that self. Making sure that you say as you feel, and do as you say. Your authentic self is your own unique blend of talents and attributes, the qualities that make you, you. It is not your qualifications or the things you think you should believe or be or do.
So what happens if you are trying something new and stepping out of your comfort zone? If you take up a more senior role, or branch out into a new area it seems inevitable that you will have some level of doubt, discomfort and lack of confidence. Don’t you need to ‘fake it till you make it’? Or would that be inauthentic?
If your answer was yes, then it is possible that your rigid view of authenticity could prevent you from growing. INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra, suggests that the solution is to try and be more ‘adaptively authentic’. If we are too introspective and follow our old narratives too rigidly we are not giving ourselves permission to try anything new. We reinforce our existing stories and beliefs and limit our potential for discovering something different and possibly better.
To discover your authentic self you need to be clear about what it is that you value. Not what you think you should value, but what is actually important to you. Our past achievements are not these values. Hopefully what we have achieved is in line with our values, but these achievements should not become our sense of self. That kind of thinking drastically reduces the chance of further development.
For example, you might know that you are a good employee - you have been one before. You count it as an achievement. Being a good employee is as a result of your acting in accordance with your values of reliability, co-operation, diligence. But it does not mean you are only an employee or that it would be inauthentic to be anything else. Just because you are or have been an employee doesn't mean you can't become say, an entrepreneur. Focus on those values. Being reliable, cooperative and diligent can make you a good entrepreneur too.
Taking on a new role is going to feel uncomfortable - of course. The new entrepreneur is a beginner at being an entrepreneur and we all deserve to be able to give ourselves permission to be a beginner. Your authentic self knows you are a little scared and worried that you don’t really know what you are doing. I don’t think you need to be sharing that with the world to remain authentic. I think you can be aware of being a beginner, and be okay with that. Learn as you go, authenticity intact. There is a time and place to share your doubts. Choose that time wisely. Find a mentor and tell them... not your first client. When you get that promotion to manager don’t reveal your insecurities to your new staff. That’s not authenticity, it's poor management.
Social media shines the spotlight on the whole issue of authenticity. Celebrities and politicians are often under scrutiny for having artificial profiles on social media. But the reality is that we are all complex beings. We are all different things to different people. Do we really need to see every facet of a person in their social media profile… I think not. As long as we are clear on our own values and are acting in accordance with those values, being selective about what we reveal, when we reveal it and to whom is not inauthentic. It's just smart.
We grow by stretching the limits of who we are.
“Feeling like a fake can be a sign of growth” Herminia Ibarra.