What does it mean to be authentic?

As a leader and a coach, I’ve struggled with authenticity. “Bring your whole self to work”, they say. But I am large, I contain multitudes. Parts of me only my friends and family will see. Some parts only show up at work. Which me is authentic?

So something clicked when I learnt about authentic leadership. Authentic leadership means being true to yourself while also being true to the people you lead. You bring what is authentically "you" to match the needs of your situation.

Personal authenticity is what most of us think when we think of being authentic. It’s who you are as a person, unguarded, not playing the roles others impose on you. It’s what companies (supposedly) ask for when they ask you to “bring your whole self to work”. For me, this is how I show up at home, with my friends — playful, at times serious, sometimes deep in thought, often caring for others.

Situational authenticity is being authentic to the needs of the situation. Imagine a leader putting on a brave face for her team in the face of uncertainty. She might be anxious. She might want to crawl back under the covers. And while she can express those feelings to her team, she still needs to lead.

Authentic leadership combines personal and situational authenticity.

I heard a story of a CEO that demonstrates the difference. The CEO was addressing his staff in an AMA after layoffs. In the few minutes while the Zoom room was filling up, he played with his dog in the background. He joked with attendees about her antics. This is how the CEO would act in most meetings, fluidly blending his personal and work lives. But in this situation, post-layoffs, it landed all wrong.

What the CEO brought was his personal authenticity. He loves his family, he loves his dog, and he loves sharing his life with the company. But it didn’t match what the employees needed. They needed gravity from this CEO, a sense of sorrow to match their own.

Now I think differently about authenticity. It’s not about bringing all of me everywhere. My authenticity is how I show up in service of others.

How do you show up authentically?

© Braden Moore.RSS