The rallying cry to “be yourself” may sound idealistic. But, as an inclusion professional, my ongoing work with senior leaders and organizations points to just that – authenticity – as a critical component of effective leadership and organizational success. The ability to bring your authentic self to work has some very tangible results: organizations that value authenticity see higher engagement, morale, productivity, and retention rates. In short, their employees are happier, and business is good.
Organizations that encourage a leadership style rooted in authenticity are also significantly more inclusive. Not only do they acknowledge the cultural differences among team members, but they also embrace and leverage them in order to be more successful. They don’t expect conformity across the board.
Corporate culture to date has consistently pushed conformity by telling employees that there is one way to behave in order to achieve success. This subtle but deeply entrenched set of behavioral expectations – which includes behavior perceived as assertive, charismatic, confident, and self-promoting – is seen as demonstrating leadership capability, and we collectively point to it as the path to success and advancement.
As a result of relentlessly being told to conform, many people – particularly women, people of color, and others whose identities deviate from the dominant cultural norm – feel extreme pressure to minimize, mask, and hide who they really are in order to get ahead.
These employees are often exhausted from “performing” the expected behaviors and pushing down aspects of their authentic selves. They may disengage, feel alienated from their organizations, or burn out. Ultimately, they leave.
What can we do to shift towards encouraging and leveraging authenticity among our employees?
The work starts with leadership, and it’s not always easy. But because we know that employees who observe authentic behavior in their leaders are more likely to feel they have permission to do the same, it’s critical that leaders start by engaging in self-reflection around authenticity. Ask yourself:
- What are my core authentic values, beliefs, and preferred ways of behaving?
- How am I expressing or minimizing these aspects of my authentic self in my personal and professional life? In the way that I lead?
- Which aspects of my authentic self would I like to begin expressing more in my life? In my leadership?
As the demographics of our talent pool and client base shift dramatically, the imperative for embracing authenticity and inclusion is stronger than ever. It is time for each of us to begin this fundamental shift in how we conceive of ourselves, and how we bring this to bear in leading others.
Ritu Bhasin, LL.B. MBA, is a globally recognized speaker in the areas of leadership, diversity, and inclusion and has earned a reputation as a champion, expert, and leader in these areas. Through her consulting firm, bhasin consulting inc. (bci), Ritu provides programming, consulting, and coaching services across a range of people management areas.
Ritu Bhasin’s book The Authenticity Principle will be released this year.