March 26, 2024

Leading With Authenticity: How To Start Championing Your True Self

Leading With Authenticity: How To Start Championing Your True Self

Originally posted on Forbes Coaches Council on January 23, 2024.

Years ago, when I stepped into the role of scholarship officer for my college sorority, I had no idea that this position would challenge my understanding of myself and become a pivotal moment in my journey of self-discovery. Our annual leadership retreat featured an exercise that divided us into quadrants based on our personality types, using nothing more than duct tape on the floor.

The facilitator asked two revealing questions. First: "Are you an asker or a teller?" Though I'd always seen myself as polite and accommodating, my roommate’s knowing glance forced me to admit that I leaned more toward being a teller—assertive and direct. The second question—"Are you relationally or task-focused?"—had me ponder over my natural inclinations. Despite my social nature, I realized I was more task-oriented, a revelation that both surprised and unsettled me.

This discomfort led me to a personal pledge: to mask the traits of my personality that seemed less appealing and less valued. This marked my introduction to "covering"—the act of hiding parts of one's identity to fit societal norms, a struggle reflected in a Deloitte study where 60% of employees admitted to this behavior. Covering, driven by societal, cultural and familial influences, not only depletes our energy but also impedes growth. It stems from overlooking our authentic selves, fueling implicit biases that subconsciously shape our actions, thoughts and feelings. These biases, internalized over time, can severely impact our self-worth, authenticity and life satisfaction.

In my coaching practice, I often meet individuals struggling with their identities. Lauren, a project manager I met at a conference, realized after taking my personality test that she might have been covering her true style out of a sense of misplaced loyalty. This epiphany made her question what skills and strengths she had neglected and led her to seek ways to align her life with her authentic self.

How To Embrace Your Authentic Self

The first step in overcoming this is recognition, which involves introspection and challenging deeply ingrained beliefs about oneself. It's crucial to differentiate between the desires imposed by external expectations and our own genuine interests and values.

Several strategies can support this journey toward embracing our authentic selves:

1. Leverage external perspectives.

Encourage peers to provide feedback on your personality traits. This external viewpoint can be invaluable in understanding how you are perceived and can enhance your approach to leadership and personal relationships.

2. Understand partnership dynamics.

If you're partnered, consider your partner's personality type.Often, partners have opposite temperaments, and understanding this dynamic can offer insights into your own nature.

3. Revisit childhood essence.

Reflecting on your childhood self can reveal your core personality. Our earliest tendencies often mirror our true nature, expressed through raw and unfiltered behaviors.

4. Discover your strengths.

Each personality type has unique strengths and weaknesses.Recognizing and valuing the strengths above the weaknesses can help in appreciating and accepting your own identity.

5. Build a supportive community.

Surrounding yourself with people who recognize and celebrate your true identity can reinforce a positive self-perception and reduce the influence of negative biases.

Embracing authenticity is about unlearning and relearning, dismantling the false narratives we've internalized and building a self-concept based on our genuine thoughts, feelings and desires.

It took me 25 years to stop trying to be everything to everyone and to embrace my true self. Ironically, it was my assertive personality, once a source of internal conflict, that provided the courage and determination to champion who I truly am. What once seemed like a curse I now see as a blessing.My journey from that leadership retreat to the present day has taught me that our greatest strengths often lie in the traits we try to hide. By embracing our true selves, we can unlock our full potential and live a life of authenticity and fulfillment.

Take some time to reflect on your own experiences of covering and implicit bias. Consider how these have shaped your actions and beliefs, and what steps you can take to align more closely with your true self.

Dedicate yourself to a journey of continuous personal growth, embracing both the strengths and vulnerabilities of your authentic self. This commitment will not only elevate your own sense of fulfillment but also positively influence those around you. Embrace the transformative journey of self-acceptance and authenticity, as it not only nurtures your personal development but also enhances your impact on the world around you.