How to Stay Authentic Under Pressure

How to Stay Authentic Under Pressure

First, you have to understand yourself, because the hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourselfbut, as long as you are true to who you are, you can cope with the most difficult circumstances that life presents.
Bill George. True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership

Being authentic is easy when others agree with you. But, fear of criticism, rejection, and conflict often overwhelms and stifles authenticity. As a leader, your job often forces you into circumstances that challenge your resolve to show your real self. How do you stay authentic when you face competing interests or opposing expectations?

  1. Remember, your biology is wired to fit in.
    When someone tells you “Just be yourself, and ignore what others say”, you fight against a primal instinct to stay safe with your “herd” instead of breaking away and going it alone. Remember, this conundrum between the real you and social expectations is normal.
  2. Start with the end in mind.

    Promise this dying woman that you will always be true to yourself, that you will be brave enough to live the way you want to, regardless of what other people say.
    Now that she was dying, she didn’t care what people thought of her and anguished over why she hadn’t worked this out sooner.
    From, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware

    Imagine that you are on your deathbed. And, like the terminally ill patients that Bronnie Ware cared for, regret fills you because you didn’t have the courage to live a life true to yourself. Instead, you lived and acted as others wanted.

    As you contemplate an upcoming situation, try to imagine how will you feel if you stray from your position, opinion, or decision? Identify your boundaries. When will you listen and compromise? What are the benefits and costs of compromise? Where will you stand firm?

  3. Remember’ others’ reactions are not about you.
    Your words or actions trigger an, emotional reaction in “Joe”. He gets angry and blames you. Even though it feels personal, his reaction has nothing to do with you. His behavior is out of your control, and his rantings are his last attempt to change your mind so that he can stay in his limited comfort zone. Remind yourself that he is doing his best from his own level of development, and try to find compassion for his suffering.
  4. Manage your emotions and triggers.

    The consciousness of a business can only raise as high as the consciousness of the leader, so the best investment a leader can make is working on themselves. John Mackey, CEO, Whole Foods

    Intense emotions often accompany difficult situations and trigger you into a reactionary mode. Authentic leaders are adept in emotional self-awareness: the capacity to notice and understand one’s feelings and moods and to recognize how they affect their thoughts and actions. They are also adept at self-management: the ability to manage one’s inner states and emotions.

    Dr. Daniel Siegel created the phrase, “Name it to tame it” which describes the process of naming a feeling to reduce feeling overwhelmed by unmanaged, strong emotions. For example, when you notice an emotion such as anger, label it “I feel anger”. Notice what bodily sensations the thought of anger produces such as a burning sensation in your stomach. “Name it to tame it” activates two different brain circuits and sends calming neurotransmitters to your “emotional” brain. The earlier you can identify and label an emotion, the easier it is it to manage it.

  5. Share appropriately.
    I am often asked, in crisis situations, “How much do I disclose? I can’t tell everyone I’m afraid.” Yes, you can share your fear as long as:

    1. You embrace the “and”
      Rarely, do you experience just one emotion. Share your negative emotion and a positive one. For example, surviving the Great Recession was a significant challenge and opportunity for change for most businesses.In such a financially challenging situation, you could say “This is a scary situation that we are in, and, like you I am scared. I am also optimistic. We are at an inflection point in our business and history. The business landscape will be very different now. We can either change and come out stronger, or do nothing and hope for the best. I know which course I want to take. You are a group of bright and talented individuals. I believe in our capabilities and that, after a lot of hard work, we will be a better company.”
    2. Know your audience and adapt
      Being authentic does not mean that you must behave the same way with everyone. Instead, know your audience and adapt your style to theirs, while still being genuine. For example, there are times to be more direct, times to be more technical, and times to just listen:

      1. Use less jargon when talking to line workers.
      2. Tell jokes at a company picnic.
      3. Use technical terms when talking with engineers.
      4. Be direct in an emergency.
    3. Speak with kindness and empathy.
      Authentic leaders attune to their audiences because they are sensitive to the impact that their words and actions have on others.
  6. Address the concerns upfront. Don’t avoid them.
    If you know that your audience is fearful of an outcome, address it. For example, imagine that you are speaking to employees of recent acquisition. Naturally, they are concerned about the viability of their jobs. You could say, “When we get a more detailed understanding of your roles, there may be some areas where there is an overlap. I can’t guarantee that we will have a place for everyone. Right now, though, I believe that everyone is doing important and needed work.”
  7. Tie into your company’s purpose and values.
    An authentic leader uses his company’s purpose and values to inspire employees and guide decision making for all levels of his organization.

Summary

“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and it is also that difficult.”

Warren Bennis, Author, scholar, leadership expert

Becoming an authentic leader is not easy or quick. The process takes years and dedication to inner work. The benefits are worth it, though. People trust others who are consistent and genuine. Research from Harvard, Columbia, and Northwestern supports this.

 

“It seems to be true that to act in accordance with one’s own self, emotions, and values is a fundamental aspect of well-being… that staying true to yourself matters, even if it is difficult, because we notice that there is a cost involved in straying too far from your personal values.”
Maryam Kouchaki, a Professor ,Kellogg School

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