Authenticity in the workplace: Fostering a culture where people are their true selves

We at One TEAM consider authenticity in the workplace to be one of the most important factors in being an effective leader. We also know that enabling your entire team to be their authentic selves is key to fostering a positive culture. But sometimes, we know that we’re, for lack of a better phrase, preaching to the choir. If you’re here, you are likely already on your journey to being authentic and fostering a culture where your team can bring their whole selves to work.

What we haven’t talked about yet is something that you’ve probably experienced at some point in your career… What happens when a colleague (leader or otherwise) isn’t authentic? How can you encourage these people to start uncovering and revealing their true selves?

Below we’ve outlined three tips to encourage authenticity in the workplace, plus some thoughts on how to approach them from a generous mindset. Being authentic at work isn’t always easy, but as we reveal (and you know), it’s well worth the effort. Let’s unpack how to get everyone in your organization on the same journey.

Acting with authenticity in the workplace

Think back to how your authenticity journey started – self-awareness and self-assessment, identifying your core values, and thinking about your vision for the future. It was hard work doing that. It took concentration, effort, and a willingness to look at yourself in the metaphorical mirror and check out both the good and bad inside of yourself.

And that was just the start – then you had to think about how you act throughout the day and change your behavior so that it consistently – and outwardly – demonstrates your values. It required a certain level of comfort with vulnerability and potentially being open with your family, friends, and mentors about the work you were doing so that they could support you and provide accountability.

So when you look at others and feel like they’re not demonstrating authenticity in the workplace, take a moment to remember how much time and attention it took to get to a place where you not only know your values but can act in accordance with them (more often than not… none of us are perfect).

Empathy and compassion

Now that all of those memories are fresh in your head, you’re primed to show some empathy and compassion for the inauthentic leaders and colleagues you encounter. These are whole people too, and you may only be seeing a sliver of who they are because they aren’t able to bring their whole selves to work. 

Imagine: What pressures might they be feeling to act a certain way? What else might be happening in their life that is taking up their attention and effort? What does success look like to them?

So what do you do to encourage authenticity at work?

Fortunately, we have a few ideas for you if you’re in a situation where your colleagues don’t seem to be practicing what they preach.

Act as a mirror – explicitly

Depending on your relationship with this person, you might be able to have an open conversation with them about authentic leadership. You can share that you’ve been doing work and gently gauge if they are interested in starting down that road as well. If they seem like they’re up for the challenge, awesome! You can offer to act as their mirror and reflect back to them at times when it seems like their behavior doesn’t match what they say they want. After all, awareness precedes choice, and helping people to be aware of blind spots can be a huge catalyst in promoting behavioral change.

Act as a mirror – implicitly

Here’s a little secret: you can also be someone’s mirror without having the conversation above. It can be a little trickier, especially if you’re not having an explicit conversation with the person because you don’t have a strong relationship with them or because they don’t seem open to working on authenticity. In these situations, you can still ask questions about the tasks you’re being asked to complete or the actions you’re seeing that conflict with stated values or goals – as long as you do this from a place of true curiosity. There might be some additional context, or this might be an opportunity for the leader to see a different perspective and prompt some internal reflection.

Authenticity plus boundaries

Prioritize maintaining your own authenticity at work by setting clear boundaries. This is more important than anything else on this list. Understand that you can’t control other people and that you aren’t responsible for their actions (e.g., saying one thing and doing another) or reactions (e.g., frustration, blaming). Think about how much emotional energy you are able to expend while working with someone inauthentic, and look for strategies that will help you leave behind the situation at the end of the day. (At One TEAM, we are big fans of mindfulness and meditation in supporting wellness.)

In moments of frustration, in times where it feels like the people around you are taking the easy road by living an unexamined life, it can be tempting to excuse your own bad behavior. After all, if they don’t care about doing the right thing and acting with integrity, why should you? The answer is that your inauthenticity hurts you and those around you, and if you start behaving this way more often than not, your own team members will soon be searching for this article to find ways to deal with you.

Being an authentic leader may not always be easy. One TEAM is here to help you and your team to meet these challenges – click below to schedule a complimentary meeting to get started.


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