In today's competitive workforce, employers are looking for a new breed of professional. Ideal candidates need more than the required technical skills for the job. Soft skills are the new power skills in demand by employers across industries. Emotional intelligence, effective communication, the ability to manage conflict, and the desire to be self-reflective are just a few types of soft skills necessary for creating and maintaining productive professional relationships.
Kettering University Online recognizes the importance of soft skills for professionals in all industries. As such, MicroSkills: Soft Skills for Today's Workforce is a new collection of blogs focusing on the skills professionals can incorporate into their daily best practices. Today's blog focuses on authenticity at work.
A quick Google search for the term “authenticity” reveals hundreds of blogs, videos, articles, research studies, and podcasts. This is because “being your authentic self” is more than a catch phrase, and “authenticity” is more than the latest corporate buzzword; it is a concept that is gaining steam and the attention of leaders in all industries around the globe.
Authenticity is the quality of being true, real, or genuine. In the context of being one’s authentic self, it means that one’s intentions, words, and actions are in alignment. Think about the people with whom you have worked with. You may easily and clearly see who was more often authentic and who struggled in this area.
“Leadership is far less about what you are doing, than about who you are being. If you think about the people who have influenced you most over the course of your career and life, it’s likely what impacted you most was not what they did, but who they were being while doing it” (Warrell, 2013, para. 1).
Characteristics of Authentic People
It is impossible to be authentic all of the time. A more realistic goal is to be authentic in more instances than you are not. There are a host of characteristics that embody what it means for a person to be authentic. Following is a partial list:
|words and actions are in line with values||self- reflective and self-aware||play to their strengths|
|ability to be vulnerable||positivity||open to feedback|
|confidence||inspires and empowers others||not judgmental|
|sense of humor||promotes openness||lives in the present|
|empathic||embody their true selves||consistent and reliable|
|has good boundaries||actively listens to others||open to learning from their mistakes|
|understands their own motivations||transparent||moral and ethical|
One of the leading thinkers on the topic of authenticity is Dr. Brene Brown. Dr. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston where she has spent the last two decades studying authenticity, courage, and vulnerability. Brown (2014) explains that in order to be authentic, one must first become comfortable with being vulnerable. She explains authenticity in the following way:
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means:
- Cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
- Exercising the compassion that comes from knowing we are all made of strength and struggle.
- Nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe we are enough.
Demonstrating Authentic Leadership
One of the ways of elevating your leadership game is to work at being more authentic more often. The long-running notion that in order to be successful one must leave his or her personal self at the metaphorical door of the office is being replaced by mounting empirical evidence suggesting that being authentic at work is tied to more job satisfaction and the ability to better motivate, inspire, and engage employees and colleagues.
Another benefit of authentic leadership is that it helps to create an environment of trust and there is a direct correlation between trust and innovation. The importance of creating an environment of trust cannot be overstated. When there is an environment of trust, employees can feel safer showing their vulnerable side. When employees feel safer showing their vulnerability, they are likely to take more risks, be more creative, and be open to making mistakes.
All of these components are necessary for innovation. One cannot be innovative without risking failure and one cannot risk failure without understanding that failing occasionally is acceptable while on the road to innovation and corporate success.
Kathy Marcino of KMM Disc is a Business Growth and Communication coach who works with individuals, nonprofit organizations, and businesses throughout the Philadelphia area. In her role she helps businesses and organizations redefine strategy and skills and transform organizational culture. During one of our interviews about authenticity at work, she had this to say:
“Sometimes, in my work, I see leaders who feel like they need to have all of the answers all of the time. I try to get them to see that if they can step into their vulnerability and ask for help not only will it give others on the team permission to do the same, it builds trust, and may even open up new ways of doing things or new opportunities.”
Imagine the following scenario:
A senior leader is facilitating a meeting with her team. The team begins to notice that she is losing focus. Finally, in the middle of the meeting, the leader explains that she has another pressing matter that needs her attention. She apologizes and asks to reschedule the meeting when she can focus more clearly. The team offered a supportive response and when they met later, they reached all of the objectives of the meeting.
This is an example of authentic leadership. Inauthentic leadership might have looked like the leader faking their way through the meeting, afraid to admit that she was overwhelmed or under pressure to attend to another matter. This scenario would not have benefitted the leader or the team members. In the example, the leader trusted her team to understand the last-minute shift in priorities and they trusted that when she came back to them they would have her undivided attention.
When considering authentic leadership, it is just as important to consider which characteristics are not a part of authentic leadership. Following is a partial list:
|oversharing personal information or pressuring others to share personal information when they are not comfortable doing so||poor listening skills||lack of integrity|
|lack of boundaries||shaky ethics||negative attitude|
|passivity||lack of self-discipline||judgmental|
|no sense of plan or purpose||little compassion for others||puts others down|
|gossips||rigidity||lack of empathy|
|not open to others’ opinions||engages in little to no self-reflection||does not learn and grow from experiences|
It is important to note that no one can be an authentic leader at all times. The goal is to be authentic in more situations than not. Life and work are challenging and leaders do not get everything right all of the time, but if they can embody authenticity, they are more likely to gain the trust of their team and have more connected, productive and meaningful professional relationships.
Brown, B. (2014, July 7). Cultivating authenticity: Letting go of what people think.
Warrell, M. (2013, May 20). Why leaders must ‘get real’ – 5 ways to unlock authentic leadership.