Women aren’t always true to themselves. In a vain attempt to live up to organisational norms and expectations, their behaviours sometimes go against their own values.

But it’s not easy being fake. It takes a lot of energy to behave in ways that are out of sync with our true values, priorities, hopes, characteristics, and style. The energy expended trying to come across as something you are not energy that’s unavailable for work and other activities.

The alternative to this predicament is authentic leadership – a healthy alignment between your values and behaviours that can reenergise life at work and at home. Women who are authentic have a good understanding of themselves and their priorities. They attend first to what’s important to them rather than what might be important to other people. They are clear about how they feel and what they need and prefer.

The central component of authentic leadership is genuineness, which means every authentic leader is different. However, there are several markers that these leaders tend to share. Authentic leaders:

  • demonstrate behaviours which enable you to trust in them all the time
  • take ownership when they have made a mistake and share responsibility for any mistake
  • show the necessary courage to push further up the leadership chain, to question current status quo or defend their people or processes

It’s difficult to develop your capabilities when you’re suppressing your true values and style or are distracted by inner conflictelationship

But living a life strongly connected to your belief system promotes growth, learning, and psychological well-being. That makes authenticity an important factor in leadership development.

Individual authenticity is important for organisations as well. People who are authentic bring their whole selves to their jobs and participate fully and honestly in the workplace. Organisations that place a premium on conformity at the expense of authenticity may be incurring hidden costs. Managers who put on a false front or who struggle with feelings of inauthenticity exhaust so much of their energy that they often find themselves depleted and losing interest in their work. Organisations that foster authentic behaviour are more likely to have engaged, enthusiastic employees and workplaces that are open and promote trust.

Authenticity – which can be described as a healthy alignment between your values and behaviours – is a powerful factor in the lives of women

Recent research conducted by McKinsey explored the choices and trade-offs facing high-achieving women in managerial and executive roles. Authenticity emerged as one of the key themes influencing women’s careers and life choices.

In the study, women who demonstrated the greatest authenticity were in touch with what was most important to them and in tune with their instincts.

Highly authentic women could articulate the choices and trade-offs they’d made about leaving jobs and taking on new ones, balancing motherhood and leadership, work and personal life, getting out of bad situations, switching careers, managing dual careers, setting financial goals, and a range of other issues.

Highly authentic women were skilled at living with intention both at work and at home, consciously designing their lives in accordance with their top priorities and being authentic.

Ways for Women to Lead Authentically

What can you do to develop authenticity?

How can you align your inner and outer selves, so your work behaviour becomes comfortable and natural?

1. Increase Your Self-Awareness

A key component of behaving authentically is to understand what you care about most. What are your values, likes, and dislikes? This might sound simple, but in today’s complex world, determining what’s most important can be difficult. Here are some ideas:

1.  Engaging in self-reflection from past experiences to identify prior actions and behaviours, to examine underlying beliefs, emotions, and assumptions.

2. Knowing your leadership identity – is a mix of factors about you – behaviours, interpersonal skills, attitudes, values, and beliefs & assumptions.  

Knowing your leadership identity may help you find common ground with others and enhance your internal and external self-awareness, leading to stronger relationships or reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings during critical communications and interactions.

3.  Your leadership reputation is what others think of you as a leader. Understanding your leadership reputation helps you comprehend how you may be perceived and judged by others. 

4.  Your leadership brand should identify your unique strengths, communicate them to others, provide a consistent experience that meets others’ expectations of you, and make explicit that which is implicit.

2. Assess and Evaluate

Once you’re clear about your values, likes, and dislikes, you can better see how aligned your behaviours are with your beliefs. What have you already given up and need to reclaim, and what are you willing to give up getting what’s most important to you? Set goals that are aligned with your values. Here are some ideas:

  1. Reflect and confirm what your values are there’s little motivation for success if your goals don’t connect to your values. Of course, to make this work you need to know exactly what your values are. Look at your life, career, self, family, community, and consider how you’re living out your values in each of those areas. Gaining this perspective will give you some ideas about what you might like to change or improve.

Take time to process your thoughts and feelings and consider feedback you’ve been given. List 3 things you’d like to change or do differently.  Write down possible goals. This is the critical first step to turning your intentions into reality.

  • Focus on just one goal out of the 3 you have chosen and add enough detail to turn it into a SMART goal.
  • Plan your SMART goals into small, specific steps that will move you in the right direction. Begin by listing at least one action to take in the next week. Schedule a time to do it. This is part of living with greater intention, both at work and at home.
  • Enlist support think about family, friends, or colleagues whom you can inform of your new goal and ask for the different types of support you might need.  They can you be accountable for making progress.
  • Revisit each week, assess how you’re doing against your goal. Keep a focus on your values. Decide what actions you’ll take that week toward achieving your goal. Set new milestones as needed.

3. Act

You may or may not make sweeping changes. You can begin a change now and make your intentions reality by starting with small steps and gradually aligning your behaviours with your most important values. For example, you might cut back on the number of weekend hours you spend working to improve your personal relationships. Although it might seem as if this change would hurt your job performance, your increased sense of well-being might make you more resilient and therefore a better and more productive leader.

4. Get Support

In any area of personal development, getting support from other people can help you achieve your goals. Colleagues, friends, and family are valuable different types of support.

  1. Emotional Support who can encourage you? Who can listen and help you push through a tough spot or a setback? Who will share your enthusiasm when you’ve made progress or tried something new?
  2. Thinking Support who can help you learn about and rethink ways to manage boundaries between work and family? A coach or mentor could provide you with guidance or resources and help you figure out new ways to approach your challenges and needs. The key here is that another type of support you need is new perspectives and information to break out of your routine or mindset.
  3. Network Support who knows your work and career realities and can help you see options for managing your job? A mentor, your boss, or peers could help you gain access to resources or opportunities that would meet your goals for a better work-life fit.
  4. Self-Support how can you give yourself better care and support? Exercise, diet, and sleep can all help you minimise stress and boost resiliency. Meditation and yoga are also helpful types of support and self-care. It’s essential you make time for wellness to reach your full potential and manage your stress.

Final thoughts

This article is part of a collection about “what it means to be successful” for women.

Just remember to trust your instincts. Sometimes acting authentically requires going against what others advise you to do. Developing authenticity often requires taking risks. Have faith in your own judgment about what’s right for you.

Becoming and remaining authentic is hard work. But if you commit to living and leading with authenticity, the rewards can be great.