Can you be TOO Authentic?

"Be authentic, be authentic!" Employees don't often trust those in leadership positions, and the answer to that lack of trust is often instructing leaders to "be more authentic!"  Employees wish for a better leader -- a leader who is self-aware, compassionate, transparent, consistent, and works towards the greater good. In short, they want an authentic and approachable leader.  But sometimes, in the name of all that authenticity, leaders become insensitive to the consequences of their openness.

To minimize the risk of being too authentic, you should first gauge people’s responses to your openness. For example, if your actions have ever caused hurt feelings or misunderstandings, sometimes apologizing to employees - and realizing how the misstep occurred - can do more good for your image than anything else.

Such leaders are rare, and if you're working toward those things, you are working toward inherent authenticity, an essential trait of a better leader. However, being real and sharing true feelings can have a downside  -- people might misunderstand you or take advantage of you - that's when authenticity can actually become a disadvantage.

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Be Your Authentic Self

Think of authenticity in this way: your department's achievements in numbers won't necessarily impress people... but the real story of how your employees contributed definitely will.

Remember that your leadership style reflects the good in you, along with the bad. If your authentic self wishes to satisfy everyone, you can seem shallow and less than believable. If you are cautious and deliberate, you might seem unapproachable. Similarly, you cannot be insensitive and disrespectful in the name of being transparent.

When Authenticity Really Shows

Technology and finances can cause changes at your workplace that you'll need to embrace in an authentic and positive way; so can co-workers from various cultures. Change to the workplace may correspondingly change your responsibilities, but shouldn't change your attitude. In your effort toward authenticity, open your mind to differing points of view, changing economic times. This is easier if you view your authentic self as valuing new inputs, embracing change, and responding consistently and ethically.

With the increased use of social media, your life can now be viewed from many angles - not just by those that know and love you, but also by co-workers and employees. Your Facebook profile might be vastly different from your LinkedIn profile, although both are different aspects of your personality. Being authentic doesn't necessarily mean that you're the same person everywhere, but it means making sure your authentic self is aware of the implications of any and every action, including online.

Maintaining A Balance of Authenticity

Gaining true authenticity as a leader means not losing the basic qualities that make you unique in each circumstance. For example, in the boardroom, be authoritative and confident, while remaining empathetic and encouraging among employees. Another major authenticity hurdle you may face is self-marketing, as this might not feel genuine, but it's an important part of opening up your authentic self to others. You might prefer your work to be appreciated for its own merits. However, look at marketing yourself as increasing your influence and impact, which can be a step towards helping your employees.

So, can you be too authentic? Authenticity is a little like telling people you have style. If you have to tell them you have it... you probably don't. Others should perceive authenticity in you because it's an attributed quality, one that reaches across every aspect of your life.  That's what it means to be a better leader. 

Check out our leadership training video, "Authentic Leadership" to learn more about what it means to be an authentic leader and how to develop authenticity within your organization. 

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Director of IRI's Digital Workplace Solutions Group, and the founder of A Better Leader. Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.