In the effort of achieving perfection, every leader faces a temptation to project a persona rather than be themselves. They think that in order to maintain the confidence of their team, they must appear faultless, flawless, and ever wise. Yet most organizations do not need a perfect leader; they need an authentic one.
We live in a world of fakes. We fill our office buildings with plastic plants because we want the space to feel vibrant without having to do any upkeep. If we don’t like the way our noses or eyelids or stomachs look, we can fix it with a call to a plastic surgeon. We airbrush models on magazine covers and Photoshop family portraits. And we even create online pseudopersonas through social media and blogs that project who we want people to think we are.
Many leaders today feel great pressure to succeed, and as a result, they create and accept a pseudoself. This is a version of them that hides their warts and magnifies their best traits. Unfortunately, those who know us best and even those who simply work with us every day see right through this. They recognize our true self and know we’re not embracing that person. We won’t reach our full potential by investing energy into creating false versions of ourselves.
In a world of knockoffs, imitations, and counterfeits, authentic leaders rise to the top. Our society has created an appetite for authenticity. Therefore, every leader needs to quit striving for perfection and start working toward authenticity. To do so, leaders must:
Practice self-awareness. Before you can release your true self you have to recognize your true self. Too many people refuse to accept and even name their weaknesses, struggles, and pitfalls. As a result, they accept a version of themselves they believe others will like better. Understand who you really are.
Question yourself. Evaluate your self-acceptance with honest questions: Whose attention do you crave? Are you chasing the approval of friends, colleagues, and customers? What is it you don’t like about yourself, and how can that short- coming also be a strength? Self-diagnosis can lead to self-discovery, which is the only path to authenticity.
Move from self-promotion to storytelling. Don’t let your efforts to shape your personal brand in the public eye effects your ability to live an authentic life. Instead, begin to see public outlets as places for sharing your personal story.
Resist the urge to create a digital alter ego. Refuse to hide behind a website or Facebook page. Instead, adopt the mind-set of Claire Diaz Ortiz, social innovation director for Twitter: “Social media is not just about being connected. It’s about being transparent, intimate, and honest.”
Learn to laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Instead, grow comfortable enough with whom you are to laugh and laugh often. When you are able to accept and even chuckle at your blunders and mess-ups, others will, too. And this common experience will help you bond with them.
Build a support network. Beware of the temptation to surround yourself with flatterers who only tell you what you want to hear. Keep honest people in your life so that you can stay grounded and keep from thinking you’ve arrived.
Be interested over interesting. Be more concerned with listening instead of talking. Focus on others, not yourself.
Constantly turn over the rocks in your life and leadership. Uncover areas that need to be made clean. Big things are at stake. It’s exhausting to keep up a fake persona. Learn to be honest.
Be who you are. When we attempt to be someone else, we allow fear to control our lives. Fear that others won’t like us. Fear that others won’t follow us. Fear that we won’t be good enough. Unfortunately, the real you has to surface at some point.
Inauthentic leaders often end up living a fractured life where their true selves are unleashed in private or only with certain individuals. And as we’ve seen too often in modern times, living a secret life is fraught with many dangers. In the new economy of leadership, authenticity rises to the top. You must unleash the real you.
Brad Lomenick is president and key visionary of Catalyst and author of “The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials to Becoming a Change Maker,” from which this article is adapted. Follow him at @BradLomenick or BradLomenick.com.