Feedback Leadership Presence Reflection Self awareness

How authentic are you?

Authentic people have a vision, know what they want, are humble, and demonstrate vulnerability when needed.

Have you ever asked your close family, coworkers, or friends how authentic you are? If so, what did they tell you? If not, why not? Are you an open book or a mystery? Do people really know you and what you stand for?

This is the last Insight of chapter two in my book. For now, the working title of the chapter is BE yourself first. In the past three insights, I’ve explained why better starts with who, why design thinking matters in life and work, and asked you why you are doing what you’re doing.

Chapter three, starting next week, is the last before we focus on becoming leaders who will build the best teams, influence culture, and drive sustainable results. Before becoming that leader, you’ll need to be effective as an individual. 

Better said, how do you move from being to doing to becoming?

One way to do that is to know your authentic self. A lot has been said and written about authenticity. For a while, it has even been one of THE business buzzwords. Whenever leadership was addressed, the word authentic would appear somewhere in there.

The whole authenticity discussion started more or less with the book ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. Collins spoke about Level 5 leaders in his book. Level 5 leaders combine a strong will to succeed with humility and the capacity to be vulnerable with the people they are close with. 

Level 5 leaders look in the mirror when things go wrong and look to their team(s) when things go right.

Adapted from Jim Collins

Authentic people have a vision, know what they want, are humble, and demonstrate vulnerability when needed. Authentic people are also very aware of their context and how their behavior impacts the people around them. Being authentic suggests you are self-aware and care about your coworkers. 

People love you for who you are, not who you try to be. 

I’ve worked with leaders (perhaps managers is a better word) who were authentic but behaved like bullies. They were terrible listeners, good at shaming others, and never showed they cared. We could call them authentic, but nobody would follow them if no hierarchy were involved.

I’ve also worked with people who claimed to be authentic but who were, in fact, more concerned about their image and how they came across than being themselves. Fake is a strong word, but you knew when interacting with them that they constantly thought about how their words and actions would impact others. What will the boss think? Will this harm my image? 

Both categories of leaders described above have difficulties demonstrating vulnerability. Great leaders are comfortable being vulnerable by showing that they don’t know all the answers, are willing to show emotions and concern for others, and are not afraid to make and admit mistakes.

Those leaders build cultures where people feel safe to be who they are.

For the record, vulnerability is not showing your vulnerability on social media. That’s theatre.

Let’s bring it a little closer to you. Think briefly about the best people you have worked with in your life. I’m not saying leaders; I’m saying people. They may have been your leaders, but that’s not the point.

What made or made those people great? It is something about who they are. Or perhaps something they did? How authentic were they?

Now, let’s look in the mirror.

Who do you see? Who are you today? What do you do? And who do you want to become? For yourself and others. Can people be their authentic selves around you? Why yes? Why not?

You won’t be able to answer these questions with 100 percent objectivity. It’s good to involve a trusted friend or family member who you know will be honest and supportive and ask some of these questions.

Don’t judge. Listen without prejudice to what they have to say. Be curious and ask follow-up questions. Dig deeper than you’ve ever done. Ask for specific examples. 

Don’t be afraid of the criticism. If you pick the right people and prepare them well about your intentions, they will provide honest feedback. You know what they will say is said with care and your best interest in mind.

When we ask people about feedback, the feedback that helps us most to grow is the feedback that stings a little when we hear it. It stings because it suggests there’s something you can do better. It stings, perhaps also because you know it’s true deep inside. 

Your intention may be to become defensive. Try not to. Just ask some questions if you need clarification. Or say thank you and let them know what you will do next. Then, take your time to reflect and think. Sit with your feelings and emotions. Allow yourself to feel. I promise you that feeling will disappear, and then it’s time to decide what to do with the feedback.

Note. Not all feedback is good feedback. If you can’t identify with the feedback, thank the person and park it. It’s just another perspective. But you have to be honest and not just park all feedback that hurts you.

If you’re unsure about what you’ve heard, share the feedback with someone you know and ask their opinion. If they confirm it, great. You know, have two data points. If not, keep searching.

Including others helps you become self-aware and fulfill your ambition to come across as an authentic person who knows what they wants and demonstrates care and a great understanding of the context in which their behavior takes place.

Part of being considered by others or becoming authentic is that you’re willing to challenge your assumptions and listen to the perspectives of others.

And then grow from it!

Your turn: How authentic are you?


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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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