Have you ever taken an assignment that you thought would be easier than it turned out? But you didn’t bow out because you knew it would be a good stretch? It helped you suss out your thinking?
I had accepted an invitation to speak at a women’s event on the topic of “Leadership Presence: Your Authentic Self.” This is not a topic on which I had presented much before, although I include elements of leadership, presence and authenticity in various presentations. So I thought, “no problem.”
It caused me to really examine the definition of authenticity and my perspective on it. Is there a sharp line between authentic and fake? Can you be partially authentic? Can you tell when someone else is being inauthentic? What if they are good at faking authenticity?
Is being authentic 100% of the time one’s goal? What if it isn’t safe to be authentic? Are there instances where you are more authentic than others? Are you being fake when you aren’t being 100% authentic all the time?
Soon I learned I had more questions than answers. I wrestled with some of these questions for myself. I devised an authenticity continuum, feeling that few people are 100% authentic at all times. So one could use authenticity as a strategic tool, determining how much of one’s true self to disclose depending on the circumstance.
So is not being fully authentic all the time then being duplicitous or fake? Is there a downside to being 100% oneself — with no filters?
Leadership presence was a little easier, although as I gathered my points I could see there were notable exceptions. If I pointed to powerful woman who presented themselves with current style, like Lesley Stahl, Diane Sawyer, or Oprah Winfrey, I could counter with examples of powerful women who didn’t, like Madeleine Albright.
If I said that leadership presence incorporated strong posture and body language, I could also come up with examples of leaders who didn’t exude powerful posture.
So what to do? I have to be authentic myself and admit I don’t have all the answers, and for every key point, I could counter with examples of women who didn’t incorporate that behavior.
This assignment became a metaphor for what I was presenting: you could be authentic and confident even if you didn’t have all the answers. You don’t have to cower if you aren’t 100% certain that your ideas are correct. You can be confident even in the face of uncertainty. It’s your willingness to admit this that makes you authentic and a leader others want to follow.
Rebecca Morgan, CSP, CMC is a faculty member of LEADERSHIP USA