In my 20 years of corporate life, I have been often censoring my opinions and reactions, trying to fit in, to be part of a higher purpose which was motivating me at the time.
As Brene Brown was saying in Dearing Greatly – a book I would not only recommend to all the leaders, but mandate in high schools around the world – “We are psychologically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually hardwired for connection, love and belonging. Connection, along with love and belonging (two expressions of connection), is why we are here, and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives […] Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance”
It is no secret that women in particular tend to question themselves and I have been no exception. In an environment where performance, efficiency, focus on results and growth trends are ruling the conversation, many of us decided that the only way to be accepted and successful, is to mirror the rewarded behaviours of our male counterparts. You notice there is no room for emotions, so you start trusting only the rational part of your mind. You realise that kindness is seen as weakness, so you start expressing only the fierce side of your personality. You even end up dressing like men – don’t we all know the “suit / skirt & shirt” uniform which used to be the norm in multinational companies across the world, where a flower-print dress would disqualify you from start in an interview.
But authenticity is much more than wearing the colour that makes you feel good, speaking your mind or trusting your gut when it comes to important decisions.
Authentic leadership starts with accepting you are human – perfectly imperfect. Which means it’s OK not to have all the answers. That the real sign of courage is to ask for different opinions, even ask for help. It means it’s OK to make mistakes and this will not make you a failure.
Authentic leadership means bringing your true self at work, integrating the executive, the mother, the daughter, the wife, the dreamer that you are. And at the same time, willing to see the real person in from of you, behind the role, diploma or title. Accepting that your boss, your team, your colleagues have a bigger life than the 8, 10 sometimes 12 hours when they do their best to show up as “model employee of the year”.
Authentic leadership calls for empathy and a lot of courage. Have you ever wondered how many crises you could have been avoiding, just by saying No when your instinct was signalling that something was not right about that person or that contract? What difference would have made for your career, your team’s performance and even for your organisation, if you would have shared your most creative ideas, your wildest dreams? None of this is possible without the trust brought by embracing authenticity – yours and the people around you.
Why do I believe that women executives have a key role in changing the corporate world through Authentic leadership?
Because when they connect to their inner power, they are never afraid of their flaws and imperfections. The accept who they are and in doing so, they are able to become a better version of themselves every day.
Authentic women leaders can reach a deeper level of communication and can better support their teams to navigate changes.
Encouraging others to be authentic by creating safe places for expressing opinions and ideas will foster creativity, problem solving and innovation, which are essential for surviving in the challenging times we live in. And, even more important, a workplace where empathy and authenticity are present can have a massive impact on our wellbeing and mental health.
If I needed more reassurance that women executives are essential in leading us to a better, new normal when I was writing this blog, I came across the post of one of my previous bosses, who is now the CEO of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Talking about the importance of leaders improving their active listening skills, he was reflecting that “to genuinely care and be present” requires “effort and practice”. And while appreciating his honesty and positive impact, endorsing such important skills, I suddenly realised that this is not relevant for all of us.
We, women, do not require effort and practice to genuinely care and be present, when we bring our authentic self at work. This is in our DNA! If we somehow lost the connection with our true essence, trying to fit in a male dominated corporate environment, where shareholders’ profit is more important than people, where innovative products and not employees are the most valuable assets in the company’s portfolio, it is the time to take our power back.
Because this is what the world needs now. And when you’re authentic, leading from your heart, the world will follow!