A recent HBR piece advises leaders: Be Yourself, but Carefully, proposing that they adopt selective authenticity in their business interactions. The advice is reinforced in a related podcast by one of the authors. Here are some key points from the HBR authors integrated with my thoughts:
1.Always Be Genuine. Don’t make up stories or exaggerate for audience impact. While this behavior will get a short-term reaction, over time it will be perceived for what it is: entertainment rather then truth.You also run a more serious risk. As projects move ahead, it is likely that you will be asked for comparisons with your fictional or exaggerated experience. This will prompt you to think quickly on your feet, further embellishing your previous account and hoping you can remember what you said before. This is never fun. The more details you provide, the better the chance of tripping up or saying something that can’t be substantiated.
2.Focus on Business Value. It’s great to share a personal story that is relevant to the challenges at hand where the information provided advances the project either by providing important information in a credible way or by building team confidence that a favorable outcome is possible. On the other hand, personal stories that do not connect to business needs just waste time and portray you as trying to act self-important.
3.Know Yourself Before You Share. We talk a lot about self-knowledge as an important component of authenticity. Here are some examples where self-knowledge is missing:
- Failure to Understand Your Communication Skills. This can happen in several ways. You can lack the ability to read others well because of poor emotional intelligence. If you recognize this problem, you can limit sharing personal experiences that could miss the mark. Then, when you strengthen your emotional intelligence, you can begin to share more frequently. Another example is a person who just keeps talking without boundaries. If you recognize this trait in yourself, you can make a conscious effort to talk less. But if you don’t, your persistent sharing of information will be a detriment, possibly even being perceived as evidence that you can’t be trusted with sensitive information.
- Being Remote or Inaccessible. This can happen for different reasons. All too often, it’s a learned behavior driven by the desire to improve time management. When you act this way, you create the perception that either you’re absorbed with your own self-importance or you don’t know how to relate to others. Obviously, the first step to fixing this problem is developing an awareness that it exists. Otherwise, you will continue to undermine your authenticity to your detriment. Another possibility is that you are extremely introverted. In this case, once you understand your behavior, you have two choices. You can either overcome your introversion sufficiently to change perceptions or you can seek out roles where far less communication is needed.
4.Failure to Model Internally What You Show Externally. This is a common problem that occurs where leaders see customers and suppliers as more important than colleagues. The result is shutting down internally, saving the real energy burst for the more important audiences. The effect is predictable: you will get the low engagement that you are modeling and your business will suffer.
Don’t wait for leaders to derail with lack of balanced authenticity. Systemically develop your leaders, starting with the Senior Leadership Team, with personality assessments, 360 assessments and coaching. This approach combines identifying the current issues, feeding them back to the leaders in a convincing way, developing action plans and working with the leaders to come to the right customized individual approach for sharing the right types of personal information in the most appropriate ways.