Be yourself; everyone else is taken. So goes the famous saying, often attributed to Oscar Wilde. A very powerful idea and one that’s easy to accomplish, right?
After all, who knows you better than you?
And as a result, being yourself, being authentic should be easy to accomplish too.
But let’s be realistic, there are a couple of challenges to what, on the face of it, may appear very straightforward.
First off, when we talk about knowing ourselves, what do we mean?
It all comes down to values; the personal values that we hold and those that inform our actions.
But unless we’ve spent time understanding and exploring our values and what they mean for how we navigate the world around us, this could be a challenge.
Values act like that compass that helps us decide on a course of action. We can access them when they show up; when we experience the lift of acting in accordance with them or the pain of when we don’t fulfil our values.
Acting in accordance with our values feel good; we feel at ease with ourselves. Conversely acting against our values can leave us feeling unsettled and uneasy. So, identifying our values and following them through is a central component of maintaining inner equilibrium; helping us to feel good about ourselves.
A second consideration could be that even when we understand our value set; can we always live this out fully?
Sometimes we may have conflicting values; the desire to be a good parent and a diligent co-worker. At times, where work is pressured and busy and family life may be busy too, it could be a challenge to balance these two values. Something may have to give.
So, acting in accordance with our values can be a tricky balancing act and one that takes self-awareness and personal insight.
Third; not everyone is going to share our values. We may be lucky enough to work in team who share common values but the reality of our peculiar human paradox means that while we may hold values of teamwork and commonality; unless we practice and apply skills of insight and self-management, then self-interest and personal advancement could come into play.
The ‘dark triad’ of personality traits, Machiavellianism, Narcissism and Psychopathy, are aspects we may have encountered; we may even have manifested some of these behaviours ourselves.
While some may contend that these traits can serve a purpose in business and leadership; having hidden agendas, being absorbed by perceptions of one’s own importance and seeking to manipulate others is the antithesis of being an authentic leader and colleague. This has a predictable and inevitable outcome. Trust and bonds are fractured, and teams and relationships fragment as awareness of manipulation comes to light.
Ego may promote an internal narrative that your ‘poker face’ is better than others; that you can run a manipulative game plan that others will not see through; however, sooner or later the marvel that is the human mind may piece together elements of behaviour and recognise what your underlying game plan is. Your tell (the behaviour and demeanour that reveals your true intentions) may well be identified and your bluff may be called.
A simple analogy like this explains the importance of authenticity.
If we approach our leadership and interactions like a poker match; where we seek to bluff, to manipulate and to win against those around us; we may be successful, for a while, but inevitably, our hand is revealed and the trust and collaboration that is so central to high performing teams and to collective success suffers.
Here’s a lightbulb moment; people don’t like being manipulated.
So, the case for behaving with authenticity is clear.
Being authentic in our approach; promoting transparency and basing approaches around self-awareness, self-management, stability and predictability of behaviour; promoting trust based on value led, committed action all feed into scenarios where psychological safety thrives. With psychological safety and trusting environments, high performance flourishes.
Acting authentically not only allows us to feel more content in ourselves but allows others to trust; to feel safe; to move towards collaboration and collective efforts.
From here collective problem solving and innovation can blossom. Different skill sets, perspectives and insights can produce novel solutions to seemingly intractable problems and the conditions to achieve success, however we define it, whether personally, emotionally, psychologically or within our teams and businesses, can thrive.
So, here’s my challenge to you; know thyself, explore and understand your values, harness the power of ethical, trust enhancing behaviours and practice authenticity. And then map the outcomes and provide yourself with the evidence of the power of being authentic.