In challenging times, organizations need their leaders to step up and drive results.
When it comes to making that happen, just about every leader gets feedback that they have valuable strengths, as well as areas of opportunity where they could improve.
For most leaders, your strengths come rather easily. However, addressing your areas of opportunity is usually more of a challenge! Even worse, when your manager, peers, and others tell you that you need to change, you may feel hurt, upset, or anxious about it.
Here’s an example: Introverted leaders are often appreciated because they generally come across as thoughtful and deliberate when it comes to making decisions. At the same time, these leaders may get feedback that they often leave their teams and peers wanting more – that they need to speak up and share what they think and feel more often.
While many high-performing leaders understand this feedback, they may also struggle with it. Some worry that if they change their behavior in response to the feedback, they won’t be their authentic self. At the same time, these leaders may also be concerned that if they don’t change, then they will limit their success. We call this the “Authenticity Paradox.”
So what can you do when faced with this seemingly lose-lose choice? Quite often, leaders are advised to “fake it ‘til you make it.” Let’s say an introverted leader takes this advice to heart. They vow to start blurting out whatever thoughts come to mind—throwing caution to the wind by speaking first and thinking later.
There are a few significant problems with the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach. The first one is that no one wants to be fake! Secondly, you run the risk of negatively impacting one of your greatest strengths – your reputation for being more thoughtful and less impulsive. Thirdly, most people just can’t do it. They may try to change, but it feels so out of character that they will simply stop trying to behave differently.
The great news is that you don’t have to “fake it ‘til you make it.” In fact, this approach is actually a very ill-advised path forward. Instead, the key is to figure out how you can respond to constructive criticism AND be true to your authentic self. To do so, think about how you can leverage your existing strengths to your advantage — maybe in a slightly different way than you do now.
For example, if you are an introvert, here are some ways you can be true to your authentic self AND be responsive to feedback calling for you to speak up and share more often:
- If you are a good listener who struggles to inspire others, go on a listening tour to learn more about what would inspire others.
- If you are humble person who doesn’t like the spotlight, tell more stories about peers and direct reports who deserve recognition. This may be a more comfortable way to inspire others and rally them around a vision.
- Rethink how you prepare for meetings and presentations in ways that honor your introvert’s preference for processing time. If you can anticipate and prepare for your audience’s tough questions on a given topic, you will show up much more ready to share and without feeling you have to “think out loud,” which may not feel natural for you.