Home Leadership Beware the Authenticity Trap: How to Prepare Your Team To Be True

Beware the Authenticity Trap: How to Prepare Your Team To Be True

by Craig Ross

There is no one alive who is more youer than you. – Dr. Suess

Authentic leadership is the buzz right now. And thank goodness. Who would argue with the value of having employees being truer to themselves. Indeed, at the core of the authenticity movement is the belief that people already possess a brilliance; and by bringing out their greater strengths the business and the person benefit. That’s powerful for enabling your team to deliver big outcomes.

Beware of a big trap, however. In the pursuit of authenticity in the workplace, we’ve seen well-intentioned teams unwittingly set themselves up to fail: For you to succeed in being more authentic, the team around you must be prepared to support your changes in behavior. When this doesn’t occur, people become more disheartened and disengaged then they were before.

Why do you need a team to succeed in being truer to yourself as a person? Because becoming anything different from who you are now means you’re going to change behaviors. And as hard as that is for one person to do, it’s equally hard for others to accept. Here’s why.

Your teammates have gotten comfortable with how you operate. They’ve adapted to how you communicate and interact with them. They know how to push your buttons. They count on you to respond to new information and make decisions in certain ways.

In other words, you’re predictable. And humans like those close to them to be predictable.

Becoming more authentic means changing your behaviors, which will mean that in the process of doing so, you’ll be less predictable. Consider the following, real-life example, that we’ve seen repeated in various forms within numerous organizations around the world.

Michelle, the VP of sales, hires a motivational speaker to speak about authenticity at the annual conference. Employees go crazy with delight, including Adam, a ten-year veteran in the company. Yes! Adam and his peers shout. We must be truer to who we are. We must be more authentic.

Days later, Adam prepares for his weekly 10-minute presentation to the leadership team. That’s when he remembers the motivational speaker. “I need to be more authentic. I need to tell my truth about the threats I’m seeing to our business,” Adam thinks to himself. “And instead of wearing this stupid tie, I’m going to wear my purple, no-collarshirt that I love so much!”

So, Adam takes a deep breath, creates new slides for his deck, and the next day marches confidently into the conference room. Immediately, he hears the smirks from two teammates in the corner. And on the screen, where the images are others on the team are projected, he hears Bruno (the team’s joker) shout, “Hey Adam! Where’s the peanut butter to go with that shirt?”

Adam smiles at the camera, but doesn’t say anything. “I’m not going to let them push that button,” he thinks to himself.

Soon, it’s time for Adam’s presentation. He stands up, hits the clicker, and instead of the standard slide with a problem statement that the team is used to seeing, everyone reads a question: Where do we already have momentum in the southeast region? Adam was excited to start this way. The team has always been so negative and problem focused. Adam felt liberated by being true to his strengths-based approach and starting with this question.

That is until Michelle (remember the VP who hired the motivational speaker?) spoke up. Her voice crackled through the speaker. “Adam, I’m surprised you think we have any momentum at all in the southeast? Our numbers have tanked. And they’re getting worse. So, kindly get to the next slide and tell us what you plan to do about it.”

Suddenly, Adam feels small in his purple shirt. The room is completely silent. Under pressure, Adam’s default mode kicks in. He turns of the projector, and grabs his notebook. “Uh, let me just give you the numbers.” After sharing the data with some light commentary, he nervously finishes with, “My team has a meeting on this tomorrow. We’ll have a plan then, and I’ll send everyone revised slides.” With that, Adam moves to his seat.

Michelle is quiet, then says slowly, “Northeast region—you’re up.”

Being authentic is a skill. It requires publicly testing new thinking and behaviors; it involves experimenting with new ways of showing up to the world you live in.  Therefore, success requires a support system—the team—for a sustainable shift in behaviors to occur.

If your team has expressed a desire to be more authentic, use these five questions to equip them for the effort:

  1. Why is changing our behaviors in this way important to us?
  2. What are specific examples of what it will look like for us as individuals to be more authentic?
  3. In what ways does the response from teammates make or break a person’s ability to be more authentic?
  4. When we observe a teammate acting differently than they have before, how will we respond in a manner that supports them?
  5. How will we know we’re succeeding as a team in being more authentic?

The members of your team have the heart for being more authentic. Now, make certain they have the skill to be true.


About the Author

Craig Ross is co-author of the new book, DO BIG THINGS: The Simple Steps Teams Can Take to Mobilize Hearts and Minds, and Make an Epic Impact (Wiley, Aug 28, 2017). He is CEO of Verus Global, where he designs and delivers lasting solutions that transform leaders and teams.

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