In this complex era of disruption, changing customer demands and the call for transparency on the part of today’s leaders, much attention has been paid to the need for authenticity in those leaders to respond.
From our research-based Executive Presence model (the ExPItm), and our work with thousands of senior leaders, we know first-hand about the importance of authenticity to influence, align, and inspire others to act and engage to create impact.
We also know how challenging it can be to develop and enhance those behaviors that define authenticity. Here are several observations based on what we have learned, for leaders to consider as they build out those skills.
What is Authenticity?
Authenticity, one of the 15 dimensions of executive presence in our model, means being real, genuine, transparent, and sincere in one’s relations with others, and revealing the experience and beliefs that define oneself. This facet comprises six items, which can be broken into three themes:
- Whether you’re perceived to be sincere—not fake or phony
- Whether others experience you as transparent—inclined to share thoughts and feelings
- Whether you come across as someone who shares personal stories and life lessons
The vast majority of leaders who have taken the Bates Executive Presence Assessment get high scores on that first theme. When leaders get lower ratings on the facet of authenticity, it’s almost always because they are seen as less transparent or less likely to share more of their personal experiences—or both.
The Gap You Create When You are Missing Authenticity
When we ask leaders if they think it matters to have a lower score in authenticity for these reasons, they usually sense that it does but can’t always explain why. Our recommendation is to put a three-word reminder up somewhere in their office: Avoid the void!
What does that mean? There can be any number of situations where leaders may not readily share their thoughts and feelings. Likewise, some leaders aren’t in the habit of sharing many life lessons in the office.
What’s the impact on others if people don’t hear much about your thoughts, emotions, or stories? It creates a void in the minds of others—a big blank. Human beings don’t like voids; they create ambiguity, uncertainty, and anxiety. So what do we do when there’s a void? We tend to fill it with our own assumptions. Unfortunately for all of us, these assumptions almost always turn negative.
How does this play out? Let’s say you don’t speak up much in meetings or share much of your personal story with others. There may be a whole bunch of valid reasons for that:
- You’re an introvert who likes to think things through before speaking.
- You’re a private person who likes to keep work and home separate.
- You have a role where you need to worry about what you disclose to whom.
- You haven’t been aware of the importance of sharing the why as well as the what.
But if others don’t know what’s going on in your head, they’ll assume far worse of you. They may think you’re disengaged, distracted, or overwhelmed. They could assume that you don’t have a point of view, that you’re aloof, or that you just don’t care. All of these interpretations may be wildly off base, but the perceptions exist.
Six Tips to Avoid the Void – and Still Be You
Here are six tips for avoiding the void—while still being true to your authentic self:
1. If you need more processing time prior to sharing your thoughts and feelings, become more intentional and deliberate about preparation—and not just for presentations.
2. If you’re not ready or able to talk about content, you should share why and tell people when and how you will share more.
3. Sharing stories and life lessons from earlier in your career rather than deeply personal stories is usually more comfortable for relatively private leaders.
4. If your job or role requires you to withhold your thoughts and feelings to some degree, reflect on whether you’re overusing this tendency. There may well be times when you need to be more of a consultant and less of an impartial facilitator or coach.
5. Be more deliberate about sharing what you’re feeling as well as what you’re thinking.
6. Be sure to share the intent behind the content—the rationale or the “why behind the what.”
When you “avoid the void,” you will no longer be at risk of people assuming the worst of you because you aren’t opening up and sharing what you’re thinking and feeling, or some defining experiences from your career or life. In short, the more you are transparent, the more qualities of executive presence become crystal clear, and the more you will inspire, align, and engage others to act and create impact.