Being authentic can be harder than it sounds. Herminia Ibarra recently published The Authenticity Paradox in the Harvard Business Review, which outlined how being authentic can backfire, despite being one of today’s most sought-after leadership qualities. Authenticity shouldn’t be viewed as permission to stay cozy in your comfort zone. Ibarra argues that when we are adjusting to new situations we should give ourselves permission to try on different variations of our own style to find one that works best given the new reality. We can still be authentic in these variations because we are not trying to become something we are not; we’re just tapping into a different set of strengths that may have been dormant or less developed. Ibarra details three steps to help find your “adaptively authentic way of leading,” but the one I find the most interesting is not sticking to your story.
The premise is that our personal narratives may be keeping us from growing and moving forward since they’re rooted in our past rather than telling the story about where we could go – what we’re capable of doing, given the chance. I think about my own career history and the story it tells. For some, my resume may look a little scattered since I’m not clearly one thing in one profession – I’m not an engineer, a teacher or a network specialist. However, I look at my time in banking, associations, retail and consulting and it’s very clear to me that one of the things I am is a customer service specialist. Whether it’s service to external or internal clients, I have always prided myself on being among the best. And that’s part of the narrative I need to make sure I’m telling, but it’s rooted more in what I’ve done than where I want to go. Adjusting my narrative to talk about the ways I can bring out the best in people is what I want to emphasize at this point in my career and that’s something I’ll be thinking about moving forward. What are the stories you’re telling about yourself?