Why Women in STEM Shouldn’t Be Authentic

team performance
“I just want to be myself.”
“I want to work somewhere, where I can be authentic and don’t have to pretend.”
 
Ever had that thought?
 
Being authentic means different things to different people. Wearing sneakers and a hoodie to work. Saying what you think without polishing the message for the audience. Almost always it’s about expressing “who you really are”.
 
When I ask team leaders what they’re struggling with the word “authentic” comes up often, too. They want to ‘lead authentically’, don’t want to be seen as manipulating.
 
People fear that if they aren’t authentic, it saps their energy.
 
This is a fear that is holding you back.
 
Because leading a team, managing a project or being a good employee is all about workig well with and influencing others.
You can’t be good at social connections (and therefore getting your job done) if you’re not willing to adapt to some norms and conventions in your environment to get along with your co-workers.
 
“my way or the highway” will alienate people from you rather than bringing you fulfillment.
 

Why you shouldn’t be authentic.

You and your organisation don’t want full authenticity.

If the people around you only have good qualities, of course you’d want them to be authentic and express these. But what about the colleagues who are bad tempered, have poor social skills, are neurotic, narcissistic and intolerant? All those traits and behaviours that make collaboration difficult if they come out unchecked.
 

Your authenticity as a career stopper.

When it comes to your yearly evaluation or the decision whether or not to give you that promotion … What do you think the senior managers will look for? If you always “speak your truth” or if you’re loyal to the company and willing to go the direction that has been set?
You may still decide that “speaking your truth” is more important to you. That’s fine, just be aware of the consequences it might have.
 

You cross the line to being self-centred and narcissistic.

In today’s working world, you can’t get much done all on our own. You need to collaborate with others to achieve important goals. The focus on authenticity and yourself puts you in the center of the universe when you’d be better off paying more attention to other people’s needs and concerns.
 

You make everything personal.

When your self is the focus of attention (because you’re so authentic), rather than what you do, everything becomes personal. Someone critised an idea you had in a meeting? You think they criticised you. Someone gave you feedback that you came to a wrong conclusion and made a mistake? You feel like you’re wrong and a failure.
 

You block your development.

When you stick to an ideal, it becomes very hard to evolve to adapt to the changes in your surroundings. Focused on authenticity and your (current) true self makes all these challenges seem like a threat. You’re stuck being who you are instead of using them as an opportunity to become the next, better version of yourself.
 

The alternative to authenticity.

How would you feel if you’d strive for being sincere rather than authentic? Being sincere means presenting yourself accurately and honestly to your team and colleagues. Without leaving the energy you bring unchecked.
 
Just do a good job… and hold yourself accountable to some more realistic standards.
 
  • Focus on the job at hand and the people around you. If we’re less concerned about ourselves and our appearance to the outside, we’d have plenty of headspace to complete our tasks and be helpful to our teams.
  • Be diplomatic and consider the needs and wants of those you lead. Think about it. Which leader do you prefer? The one who always has to express himself (or herself) or the one who cares about you?
  • Be a bit more thick skinned. In the sense of a healthy self-defensive mechanism. Yes, you’ll make mistakes. Yes, you should learn from them. And yes, you should care not to hurt others. But often people on the cheap seats have quite an expensive opinion of you. And even the feedback from your most senior leader is flawed. There are moments where you can respectfully ignore what others think of you.
  • Hide Mr. Hyde. Have you come across those leaders who sometimes get a fit are shouting demeaning words to those around them? You could argue they’re being authentic. A little hot-tempered (with a smile you want to slap off their face). I prefer the leaders who are able to keep their “narcissistic and abusive impulses” in check.
  • Don’t preach or try to convert. This is something that is quite interesting for the whole #diversity debate. You want people to be able to bring their true self to work? Fine by me, but be careful not to impose your own worldview on others.