The importance of authenticity has interested me for years, and I regularly question and challenge it in my role as a senior leader and as a mentor to our clients. But how safe is it to REALLY be yourself in the workplace? Inspired by the TV show The Masked Singer, I’d like to explore why it sometimes feels easier to act the part we feel others expect, rather than revealing our true selves.
I admit that I became mildly addicted to ITV’s recent Saturday night hit The Masked Singer. For those who didn’t watch this crazy but very watchable show, it involved various celebrities dressing up in spectacular outfits to hide their true identities, then singing to a live audience and a celebrity panel. Each week, one of them was voted off and removed their mask to perform again as a final hurrah.
The buzz of disguise
I was particularly struck by the comments that many of the performers made when they finally unveiled their true identify:
- how nervous they felt going barefaced to sing that last song with no mask to hide behind
- that they felt more confident inside the costume, despite the heat and physical constraints of their outlandish outfits
- how they felt they got away with more and could really let themselves go, without any fear, when their identity was hidden
- the liberation of becoming who they’d always dreamt of being
I suppose that is all fabulous for a while, creating quite an inner buzz, but obviously not sustainable for a long period and totally exhausting!
Why not feel, and be, all those things anyway every day, without the mask? Is it time to embrace the importance of authenticity?
Authenticity or vulnerability?
It really got me thinking: how often have I hidden behind a mask at work or socially, perhaps fearing that showing too much vulnerability, emotion, or just too much of me, might be perceived by others as a weakness?
My mentees regularly ask me, “How much vulnerability can we really show at work? Surely there is a line?”. “What if I take my mask off, and no-one else does? I may put myself at a disadvantage by looking too emotional, and that might be held against me”. Rest assured, such fears are widely held.
Authenticity is an easy to word to throw around, but living a truly authentic life can be challenging. As Oscar Wilde purportedly wrote, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”, but – particularly in the workplace – it can seem simpler and safer to fit in by hiding your true self.
Take it slow
Certainly the importance of authenticity in leadership should not be underestimated, but only we as individuals know how and when it feels right to let others see behind the mask. My advice is to take it at your own pace, revealing yourself a little at a time; perhaps in increments of 5%? If people love and respect you they will accept you as you truly are, ‘warts and all’.
The true importance of authenticity is that when we are fully comfortable in our own skin, whether at home or at work, we are completely free. Taking away the pressure of hiding our authentic selves releases so much more energy to connect with others and get even more out of life.
Author: Liz Babb