Feeling inauthentic is OK

Authentic adj. genuine, known to be true

From the 1970s onwards as women began entering professional and managerial occupations in increasing numbers they opened up discussions around authenticity at work.

Why – they asked – do we need to pretend we’re not mothers; that our children don’t matter? Why do we need to adopt masculine behaviours in order to succeed? In two to three generations women made phenomenal progress while discussions around authenticity at work have escalated.

Indeed, some commentators extol the benefits of authenticity to such a degree that we’re now led to believe it holds the key to charismatic leadership. Somehow we know that when we embrace our authenticity and live our lives accordingly we can make the world a better place.

Not everyone feels comfortable being authentic – nor does every workplace necessarily encourage authenticity. We may struggle to be authentic while embracing what we believe to be the correct professional persona. The dark side of this inauthenticity is what has been termed emotional labour – the way our work requires us to behave regardless of our inner feelings.

Experiencing the Imposter Syndrome is another way we may question the authenticity of our behaviour. This is where we feel we’re not good enough, we’ve arrived at our role by accident and sooner or later we’ll be found out. Apparently women are highly likely to fall prey to the Imposter Syndrome – perhaps because we’re still trying to figure out those masculine scripts as we climb the corporate ladder.

What should we do? Suggesting we “fake it till we make it” can leave us feeling uncomfortable and (yes) inauthentic. The alternative is to listen to the wisdom of Herminia Ibarra – leadership expert and researcher into working identity.

A transition to a new role demands new skills, behaviours and attitudes and is likely to trigger changes to our professional identity. Professor Ibarra suggests we take ourselves lightly at this time, experiment with provisional selves and remain flexible about who we are becoming.

Clients working with me during the transition to becoming a Balanced Leader gain the benefits of tools, resources and a roadmap that I’ve been developing for the past twenty years. But as I’ve said in previous blog posts there is no well-trodden path down which to guide them. Balanced Leaders are pioneers.

Choosing to act as a Balanced Leader may initially feel inauthentic. But if you’re undertaking the journey for the right reasons (and why else would you choose this more challenging path?) you will grow into your authenticity.

The reality is we create our futures by our actions in the present. In an increasingly unpredictable world we often find ourselves doing this without an external compass to guide us. There are few role models and no well-worn paths. We must embrace the shifts to our identity and remind ourselves we’ve chosen to make them happen – not just for our own wellbeing but for that of the people around us.

Set your own agenda – or someone else will

A group of my academic colleagues have set up the Switched On Consulting Research Group. Their aim is to further the understanding of how technology and being constantly “switched on” impacts our lives.

Technology that ensures we’re always accessible to colleagues is undoubtedly changing the way we work. For many of us this fast pace results in burnout, poor sleep – essential for recovery – and ever diminishing attention spans. We find ourselves operating in responsive mode – always firefighting.

That’s not how leaders behave. Leadership is about providing clarity and strategic direction. For that we need time to think and time to access the deeper wisdom required to navigate our VUCA world. According to Professor Herminia Ibarra – as I pointed out in this earlier post – we must Act Like Leaders and create that space in our working lives. Nobody else is going to do that for us.

Setting an intention to live in balance should not become another chore. It’s the foundation that enables us to perform at our best in our many roles. Here are three small steps we can take immediately to regain our balance:

  • Re-write outdated scripts and eliminate unnecessary tasks. What in your work and personal life needs to go to provide space for better balance? As parents and workers we’re so often squeezed by other people’s timetables and demands. Aspiring leaders must be strategic thinkers rather than operational doers.
  • Clear the mental pressures by separating – even if just for an hour each day. Switch off the devices and aim for single focus and mental clarity.
  • Get enough rest to refresh and recharge. An emerging trend in recent months has been the greater focus on doing less and being less busy but more productive. Indeed Arianna Huffington is so convinced of the importance of sleep that she’s written a book on the topic.

Listening to a motivational speaker today I was reminded:

“if you don’t have goals of your own you become part of somebody else’s goals.”

Focus on your goal of becoming a Balanced Leader. Pick one small step from the three above and give it a try for the coming month. See whether you become more balanced and more productive. Then get in touch and let me know!

How to grow your leadership muscle

Becoming a parent is a major life transition. As our identity shifts our new circumstances often prompt us to review how we work and what we want from life. Sadly, for many women it’s a time when they feel forced to make uncomfortable compromises. You’re ambitious, you’ve worked hard to establish your career and now you find yourself confronted by an organisational culture that insists you must continue to put in long hours and make work your primary commitment if you want to progress. It’s no wonder this is the point where the corporate world loses so many smart and talented women.

Professor Herminia Ibarra has built her career studying how people navigate important transitions at work. Her most recent book ‘Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader’ explains why most of what she’s learned about transition goes against conventional wisdom. She contends that people become leaders by doing leadership work; by growing into leaders. This activity sparks two important interrelated processes.

The first is an external process of developing a reputation for leadership potential – which can dramatically change how we see ourselves. And the second is an internal process of evolving our motivations and self-definition – which occurs in the context of our relationships with others. Professor Ibarra says:

“When we act like a leader by proposing new ideas, making contributions outside our area of expertise, or connecting people and resources to a worthwhile goal…people see us behaving as leaders and confirm as much. The social recognition and the reputation that develop over time with repeated demonstrations of leadership create conditions for what psychologists call internalizing a leadership identity – coming to see oneself as a leader and seizing more and more opportunities to behave accordingly.”

In the past a promotion or new job assignment was the prompt to adjust or reinvent our leadership behaviour. Nowadays – according to Professor Ibarra – major transitions are rarely so clearly labelled. We may find ourselves experiencing the need to step up to leadership without specific outside recognition or guidance – ‘the do-it-yourself transition’.

Does this thinking resonate with you? If so, I’d like to invite you to see your desire for more balance and your intention to make it work as an act of leadership. You’re pioneering new ways of working that more closely match 21st century expectations. You’re challenging outmoded corporate practices that limit possibilities and have a negative impact on wellbeing. And you’re becoming a role model for other working parents in your organisation and your industry.

You don’t have to do it alone. There are many resources – including this blog and my Balanced Leader Programme – to support you. What you do need is both courage and commitment to living your best life; to making the most of career and family. And that means taking charge. Acting like a leader. Growing your leadership muscle. For, as Professor Ibarra concludes:

 “If you don’t create new opportunities within the confines of your “day job” they may never come your way.”