Authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It’s something we practice – a conscious choice each day of how we want to live, show up, and be real in who we are. It’s about letting our true selves be seen. And for me, it can feel resonant, exhilarating, and terrifying all at once.
When I think about authenticity, I think about how we are drawn to deeply real people. In my work as a leadership development educator and facilitator, I often see this in the classroom. Just the other day, my co-facilitator was delivering a part of our program on organization change. He shared a personal story about leading a major change initiative for an international Fortune 100 company. As the group listened, I imagined that some fully expected an account of how well it went – of how he did all the right things, executed critical steps in perfect text-book form, and everyone came along with the change.
While some things did go well, much of what he shared was about the missteps…of what went wrong, what he wish he’d done differently, and what he learned from the complex navigation of change across a large global company with competing divisions, goals, and priorities.
What I witnessed in our participants was a building in the level of engagement, belief, and trust. This guy could have told his story so differently. He could have pointed out the positives and insulated himself and his leadership by jumping over the tough spots and failures. To do so would have created a divide with the participants and resulted in a missed opportunity to connect and exhibit vulnerability.
Before writing this post, I reviewed in my mind the characteristics I’ve observed in the most authentic people I’ve met. Most of the qualities come directly from being rather than doing. Here’s my list:
- Knowing yourself and being comfortable in your own skin
- Being vulnerable – Letting go of what people think and embracing who you are
- Having courage – Being willing to move out of your comfort zone, take risks, and play it unsafe
- A willingness to admit to and learn from failure
- Being honest – Choosing being real over being liked
- Expressing your own creativity
What characteristics make your authenticity list? How do you recognize if you are accessing your own authenticity?
“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody-but-yourself means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight – and never stop fighting.” E. E. Cummings
photo credit: Ara Pehlivanian via