Do you lead authentically? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. Many leaders are beginning to question themselves, especially when tough situations force them to act in ways that don’t align with their true beliefs. When they must juggle different personas across different settings and boundaries, they can start to feel deceptive.
As a leader, you may feel like you’re walking on a delicate tightrope, with your true self on one side and the responsibilities of your position on the other.
The key components of authenticity (self-knowledge, self-awareness, authentic behavior, and self-regulation) mean you have to know who you are historically, be aware of who you are in the moment, align your behavior with your values, and know when and why you deviate from those values. We all like to think that our true self is behind every action, but many leaders don’t do a great job of leading authentically — mostly because practicing authenticity is easier said than done.
I recently teamed up with Taylor Peyton Roberts, Ph.D., and Crystal Dujowich, Ph.D., managing partners and co-founders of Valencore Consulting, to deeply examine this topic. They’re both experts on leadership authenticity and have developed an online assessment called the Role-specific Evaluation of Authenticity in Leaders, or REAL. Their valuable insight into the dangers of inauthenticity and how to be a genuine leader has influenced my own leadership style.
Why Is Authenticity So Hard?
Before we can get into how to be an authentic leader, we have to first understand why authenticity is so difficult to maintain in the workplace.
There are many fears that keep leaders from striving to be their authentic selves, such as exposing a real or imagined weakness, losing respect, or even missing out on an opportunity. To make matters worse, workplace culture, professional subcultures, industry cultures, and even national cultures all exert enormous pressure on leaders to conform. If your views differ from the cultural norm, you may hesitate to express them.
It takes some rock-solid confidence to be able to stick to your guns when they aren’t readily accepted. No one wants to be viewed as “different,” but failing to act authentically has a pretty big downside, too. You may have trouble creating trusting relationships, experience a loss of self-respect and respect from your co-workers, or even get dragged into corporate corruption and scandal.
Tips For Leading Authentically
Leadership is complex work. You’re managing multiple stakeholders with competing values and demanding respect from your team. If those people can’t sense what you stand for as a leader, they’ll lose trust in you. This is especially true in leaders who switch values and decisions based on whomever they’re interacting with at the moment.
If you’re struggling with leading authentically, ask yourself, “What are my core values, and what is the priority of my values?” Once you understand your values, test out these six strategies for authentic leadership:
1. Find a peer with whom you can be fully authentic. Compare your authentic interactions with someone you’re comfortable with to your inauthentic interactions with others. Once you can identify the differences between the two, it will be easier to close that gap.
2. Seek out exemplary leaders in your industry who model authenticity. Having an authentic role model is useful because you can observe how he or she behaves genuinely, then you can incorporate those strategies into your own leadership skills.
3. Take authenticity to a new level by encouraging others to be real. Create a safe environment for others to have a voice. Let employees know you value their opinions. Demonstrate unconditional acceptance by saying things like “I enjoy working with you, and nothing you say to me right now could change that.”
4. Don’t let “being authentic” become a cop-out for individual and professional growth. Always reflect on your behavior in high-pressure situations, and ensure your response was reflective of your “ideal self and highest values.” Challenge yourself to strive for growth.
5. Learn to speak your truth in a positive way. When you’re facing a difference in values, be diplomatic and concise and strip any frustrated emotion out of your voice. One-on-one settings are usually best for delivering feedback on sensitive topics. Follow up afterward to make sure respect is maintained.
6. Accept that 100 percent authenticity isn’t the goal. Total and complete transparency doesn’t always ensure success. In fact, boundaries often help people feel safe. Tune in to your moments of inauthenticity, and learn from them. Build your self-awareness around when and why you’re disingenuous so you can recognize these situations, and experiment with new behaviors when appropriate.
It can be difficult to know when and how to be your authentic self to ensure that you can lead those around you most effectively. When your values conflict with others (or when you have a lot to lose), you may unintentionally do more harm than good by expressing yourself authentically. Still, as a leader, you need to give honest, timely feedback to shape the system you’re in.
Leading authentically isn’t simply about being yourself and living up to your values; sometimes it also means developing the ability to adapt. Understanding true authenticity means that if you need to shift your views and values, you must consider letting go of some aspect of your past self and learn to be authentic to your future self. The quest for authenticity is a long and challenging one, but like any worthwhile goal, you won’t come out of it unchanged.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.