Discover Your Swagger By Becoming Your Authentic Self

Authentic Self Podcast - Leslie Ehm

What do you think when you hear the word "swagger?" It likely conjures up images of brash, in-your-face types, show-offs who value style over substance, more confident , perhaps, than they are competent. Our guest today is taking on that word, redefining it to mean something far more valuable. Joining us today is Leslie Ehm, the President and Chief Fire Starter at Combustion Training. She is also a coach and a speaker and the author of Swagger: Unleash Everything You Are And Become Everything You Want. Here, she explains:

  • The difference between "Old Swagger" and "New Swagger"
  • The truth behind "Fake It 'Til You Make It"
  • How Swagger Blockers can hold you back; and
  • How Swagger Drivers can lead you to unleashing your authentic self!


If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 


Inspiration For Swagger: Unleash Everything You Are And Become Everything You Want

  • Ms. Ehm has been in the training industry since 2008 and has had the opportunity to travel the world to train some of the top organizations on the planet.
  • She discovered that regardless of the country or the culture or the company, or the level of expertise or the title, no matter what subject matter I was training on, people did not believe that they could reveal themselves and still succeed.
  • Ms. Ehm dubbed this goal of becoming your authentic self as “swagger”, which is where the title of her book stems from. 

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Old Swagger vs. New Swagger

  • Old Swagger and New Swagger can be seen as the two extremes of the same desire.
  • Old Swagger: The stereotypical high confidence, strength, and assertiveness, that we traditionally think of as “swagger”.
    • This show-off, brash, and cocky kind of swagger seemed to be what was considered desirable in the workplace - and because that seemed to be acceptable, many made it their goal.
    • Despite the negative nature of these behaviors, many aimed to be this kind of “badass” in their professional and personal circles.
    • Ms. Ehm believes this old definition to be outdated and says that we want to stay away from this old ideology of the word. 
  • New Swagger: The new definition of swagger is understanding and owning who you are in the face of adversity regardless of the situation or environment. It’s the ability to manifest who you truly are - your “authentic self” - even in the face of all of the psychological factors that will look to derail that truth. 
    • People who have “new swagger” are confident in themselves while also understanding their limitations and where they could use help.
  • Swagger is so much more about self acceptance than it is about self assuredness. 
  • The reason people manifest Old Swaggeis because they want to be noticed, accepted, loved and appreciated. 
    • The irony is that people who manifest Old Swagger are actually keeping people from accepting who they really are. 
    • Old Swagger masks your authentic self, so any recognition and acceptance that comes from it is counter-intuitive because that acceptance is directed toward a persona that does not fit your authentic self. 
  • Conversely, New Swagger requires courage to show your authentic self to the world, the acceptance and appreciation you receive from being authentic will be genuine and will provide a much better feeling than the veiled sense of confidence associated with old swagger.

Your Authentic Self

  • Ms. Ehm believes that there is a voice in everyone’s head that speaks truth to us. This voice reminds us of what we truly value, what we believe in, the things we want to say out loud but don't, the things that make us special and unique, and even our fears. 
  • Most people are aware of all of these things, but do not know of a way to manifest them in a meaningful way.
  • At our core, authenticity is who you were as a child, teenager, and young adult. The consistencies between those time periods are the traits that make up your authentic self.

Workplace Culture’s Effect On Swagger Habits

  • We are often caught in a seemingly endless loop between the different types of swagger to cater to what we believe people expect out of us and what we know is truly expected of us.
  • Often the people we all look up to and want to work for/under demonstrate New Swagger. 
    • These people are often transparent, accessible, express vulnerabilities, display honesty, and are willing to connect with people on a human level.
    • Most of us want to be around these people, yet are too afraid to emulate their behavior.
  • There will always be people in the workplace who will be endlessly caught in the loop between Old and New Swagger. 
    • When someone manifests Old Swagger, they keep people at arm’s length. They're not allowing people to actually love and see and accept them and recognize them for who they really are, and then they wonder why they aren’t appreciated or recognized for who they are. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 
    • People often lean on Old Swagger because they are often terrified that if they choose to show their authentic self, any criticism they may face will hurt more, because the criticism would be focused on the person rather than the persona.
  • The only way this loop can be broken by individuals choosing to be their authentic self and adopt New Swagger.
    • As long as no one is willing to be authentic, others will continue to fear their out authenticity as well. 

“Fake It ‘Til You Make It”

  • “Worst advice EVER!” 
  • By trying to make ourselves believe that we are more capable, adept, experienced, etc. than we might actually be, we limit our ability to gain knowledge and experience. 
  • Confidence can only be attained via competence.
  • If you pretend that you know it all, you leave yourself little to no space to ask for help. Asking for help and getting questions answered is where we grow the most and “faking it” takes that opportunity away.
  • There is even scientific research to back up the notion that “fake it ‘til you make it” is not an effective strategy for personal development and growth.
    • There was a study done at Cornell University that centered around the Dunning-Kruger Effect
    • This study showed that people who attempted to “fake it ‘til they made it” were not able to make good decisions because those decisions were often uninformed and then stand by the negative results that came from those decisions.
    • Obviously, making poor decisions and then standing by those clearly poor decisions can seriously hurt a business.
    • This study also showed that these people truly began to believe that they were superior to others, meaning that they “bought into their own hype”, which is a guaranteed recipe for ignorance and arrogance.
  • Having said all of this about the “fake it ’til you make it” strategy, there is a similar tactic that can be effective - self belief.
    • Self-belief does not require you to know everything, rather, it allows you to believe that if you were to “jump off the cliff,” you wouldn’t die. 
    • At its core, self-belief is a belief that the worst possible scenario will not happen to you and you will make it out alright.
    • Self-belief is essential when taking risks and attempting to build confidence.
    • Self-belief is a key driver to building your Swagger.

Unleashing Your Swagger & Swagger Blockers

  • Your Swagger is who you are - so the real challenge is not finding your Swagger, but unleashing it!
  • We are all special and different are at our core.Our core is made up of all of the things that make you special and unique - your personality traits that make you, you.
  • Swagger Blockers: Imagine five concentric rings surrounding your core. These are your blockers, and they can prevent you from demonstrating your true, authentic self:
    • Persona
      • Persona is the feeling that you have to look, act, and feel a certain way in order to be widely accepted by your peers.This is why people dress similarly in the workplace, talk similarly in the workplace, and try to assimilate into workplace culture.
      • Persona hides who we are, and gives us a false sense of security around belonging.
    • Ambition
      • When we are blindly ambitious, we focus on the next rung up on the ladder.
      • This often leads us away from focusing on our immediate surroundings like our peers, current position, and even our own inner ambitions.
      • Instead of focusing upwards, focus left and right along with down, to support your peers, which will in turn allow those peers to lift you to the next rung on the ladder, instead of trying to climb it yourself. 
    • Insecurity
      • Insecurity consists of all of the “what-ifs” we all run through our minds daily.
      • All of those what-ifs keeps us in a constant state of questioning without any true answers.
    • Fear
      • Fear is the end of the what-if.
      • Fear says bad things will happen, and it is conditioned by every bad thing that has happened to you in the past. 
      • Fear is potent and powerful and we will do anything to avoid it. 
      • Fear makes us assimilate and refuse to take risks.
    • Pain
      • Pain is the final and most powerful layer of the Swagger Blockers that hides your authentic self, and it is proof that bad things can happen.
      • It is memories and experiences that did not end well that allows your brain to replicate that bad scenario in your current situation and makes you believe that it will happen again. 
  • Each one of these layers reinforces the last (Pain reinforces Fear, Fear reinforces Insecurity, Insecurity reinforces Ambition, and Ambition reinforces Persona).
  • When we do find our truth and our authentic self, it has to navigate and negotiate through all of those blockers.
  • When your authentic self finally makes it through all of those blockers, it may come out as a squeak even though it feels like a roar on the inside. 
  • Once that squeak is recognized and validated externally, that vadiadation has to make it back through all of those blockers once again in order to return back to your core. 
  • The key to unleashing your Swagger is to break down each one of your blockers one by one, and find out where you truly get stuck.

Swagger Drivers

  • Truth
    • All we have in this world is our truth - the genuine ways we act and the genuine things we say.
  • Intention
    • Intention is the “why” we want to share our truth.
    • If your intentions aren’t pure or are overly selfish or arrogant, the results will reflect that.
    • Intention helps people to understand where we are coming from.
  • Self-belief
    • Self-belief is what should get you out of bed in the morning and will help you to take on all of your challenges.
  • If all three of these drivers are hard at work to help you become your authentic self and put your swagger on display, life will be much more positive and productive.

The Power of Vulnerability

  • When we reveal ourselves to other people, showing our flaws and imperfections, we allow others the opportunity to show theirs as well.
  • Vulnerability is another key factor in revealing our true selves and unleashing our swagger.

Combustion Training

  • Combustion Training focuses on Swagger as a root to many common training programs like leadership, communication, etc.
  • The programs Combustion Training provides help to create the environments in which people can reveal their authentic self.
  • They also offer Swagger-specific programs that can help groups and individuals to unleash their Swagger.
  • You can learn more about the programs they offer here.

Leslie Ehm Background

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About the Author Jacqueline Gregory

As a creative, persuasive communications professional with extensive experience guiding projects from concept through completion Jacqui has produced custom communications for some of the world's best known brands. Producing ProjectHR has been one of her favorite ways to engage and delight HR and Labor Relations professionals!

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