Let’s Be Real By Randy Hain
Let’s Be Real – Be Yourself!
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have discussed the topic of authenticity with other business professionals for decades. Over the last few years, these conversations have migrated from the importance of allowing others to see the “real” us to guarded discussions about the increasing anxiety people have in today’s world regarding being open about and advocating for their beliefs and convictions. In a few very recent discussions with other business leaders, I received blank stares and obvious discomfort when I advocated for being the same person no matter where we were and transparent about our lives with others. Why is authenticity so uncomfortable?
THE PRESSURE TO FIT IN
I suspect the root cause of this occurred for many of us at a young age. The first time we felt pressure to “fit in” with a particular group in school, we began down the path of conformity that only accelerated as we grew older. In college, we may have heard from professors (or parents) that we need to keep our work, faith, beliefs, and personal lives separate. We may have feared being judged or criticized in those early jobs for sharing anything personal, which only hardens into a compartmentalized mindset as we grow in our careers.
Logic should tell us it is inevitably harmful to suppress our true selves for a sustained period of time, yet people may sometimes feel there is no other option. Do you love being a parent, but feel awkward about discussing your kids and home life at work? Do you care passionately about a particular cause, but refrain from mentioning it for fear of condemnation? Have you struggled with a personal challenge and felt the need to hide it from colleagues lest they judge you? Have you been faced with a difficult situation that conflicts with your principles and values, but remained silent rather than risking criticism? I suspect most of us, myself included, have faced these kinds of situations. I choose to believe that deep down most of us desire to be more consistently authentic, but we may not know how to get there.
OBSTACLES TO AUTHENTICITY
Let’s address some of the obstacles that may prevent you from being authentic. I am making a basic assumption that you agree on some level that authenticity is important and have a desire to be more open, transparent, and genuine. In my experience, here are some of the obstacles that can inhibit authenticity:
- Lack of self-awareness. Do you even know there’s a problem?
- Fear of people not liking who you truly are. Fear of not fitting in. Fear of being judged. Fear of persecution for your principles and beliefs. Fear of being passed over for a promotion because you don’t fit the corporate mold. Fear of being “canceled” in today’s culture.
- Lack of courage in defending your opinions and convictions.
- Attachment to an income level and lifestyle that requires unhealthy compromise.
- Conforming to society’s march toward political correctness, restrictions on free speech, and acceptance of things which are in direct conflict with your values and principles.
- Relaxing your moral standards because it easier to go along with the crowd than take a stand.
- Incorrectly believing that presenting your generic or “fake” self in the workplace is the only path to success.
- Lack of role models, mentors, and candid friends who can show you the right approach and help you improve in this area.
This list may be as painful for you to acknowledge as it was for me to write—or you may have a different list. The points raised may be unsettling but confronting them is necessary if we are to pursue and embrace a more authentic life.
How Do We Overcome These Obstacles?
One way forward is to open the aperture about how we view the practice of authenticity. It is not enough to simply be authentic; we also have a responsibility to help authenticity thrive in others. Here are nine positive ways we can demonstrate and promote authenticity in daily life:
- Treat others with kindness, gratitude, mercy, compassion, fairness, and love. These can all be powerful manifestations of authenticity if they emanate from our core beliefs and reflect how we truly feel about others.
- Be respectful and civil. I interact with professionals every day who may fundamentally disagree with me on a number of topics, but I always try to respect their points of view, and I ask for that same respect in return. We share our perspectives, experiences, and beliefs in a civil discussion rooted in mutual respect.
- Replace angry political arguments with civil discussions about ideas.Let’s promote the lost concept of healthy debates. We need more calm dialogue and less screaming in today’s polarized world.
- Practice active listening. Good listening skills are essential for promoting authenticity. This is especially true if we make the choice to listen to conflicting opinions with calmness. We should consider responding with thoughtful questions before offering our own opinions in return. If we are truly listening with a desire to learn, we must keep an open mind and even be willing to change our opinion if warranted.
- Diversity of opinion is a good thing. Conflicting views, beliefs, and opinions contribute to diversity of thought. Without it we risk a frightening monolithic worldview where everyone thinks the same way.
- Transparency invites transparency. Be transparent first. Get personal. If we desire someone to open up to us, we should be open about our lives first. In effect, by sharing first we give the other person “permission” to be open about nonwork-related topics.
- Be curious. Be insatiably curious about others. Learn and remember personal things about them, such as their spouse and kid’s names, hobbies, interests, and birthdays. Open-ended questions like “Where did you grow up?”, “What did you do this weekend?”, or “What are you doing for vacation this summer?” can be a great way to begin. Authenticity is greatly enhanced by mutual sharing and sharing thrives in an atmosphere of curiosity.
- Business relationships
- Read the room. Being consistently authentic does not mean always sharing our sad stories or deeply emotional experiences. It does not mean we should share every aspect of our personal lives or topics inappropriate for a particular audience or situation. Use good judgment. Read the room. Be smart.
We must challenge the fear that somehow being real is a bad thing. It may be uncomfortable and create some opposition in the short-term from individuals not used to it. However, practicing transparency, engaging in honest and open dialogue, and always placing our principles and ethics before advancing our careers will bring us greater success in every aspect of our lives. I have seen the positive fruits of this in my own life and the lives of countless other business leaders. I would also argue that the most authentic business leaders I know are also the most inspiring and by far the most successful.
I am sharing this from my perspective as a father, husband, person of faith, and business owner who is very involved in the community. You may have different perspectives and views on this topic, but I believe anyone can find relevant value in what I am sharing. Maybe we should stop thinking that being ourselves, holding differing views on important subjects, or resisting the expectations of the surrounding culture are somehow bad things. In the business world, we should all seek the freedom to no longer sacrifice our uniqueness and who we truly are on the altar of political expediency.
Take some time to consider if you are being authentic to those around you. Commit to setting a good example for others, especially the generations coming after you, by being unafraid to be your true self. Remember that a lifetime of little compromises at work (and elsewhere) eventually adds up to an overwhelming denial of who we really are. Authenticity is not easy, but it’s necessary if we want to change the growing challenges around the simple practice of being our real selves. Our acts of authenticity in the workplace, exercised with prudence and good judgment, can dramatically improve the quality of business conversations, foster trusting relationships, unleash hidden potential, and potentially improve business results.
With confidence and a sense of purpose, let’s all try to be a little more authentic to the people around us.
CALL TO ACTION
Decide how you will show up as more authentic to the people in your life, beginning tomorrow.
Randy Hain is the President of Serviam Partners and the Co-founder of the Leadership Foundry He is a sought-after executive coach and leadership consultant for senior leaders and leadership teams at some of the best-known companies in the U.S. Randy is also a devoted husband, father, community servant and the author of several books including the new release: Essential Wisdom for Leaders of Every Generation. This post is an excerpt from his new book!
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