Authenticity is a term we associate with honesty, transparency, and forthrightness, but without a nuanced understanding of what it means to be authentic, we easily shirk the effort required to fully explore our range of personal and professional potential.

Being transparent, for example, can be highly problematic for leaders tasked with inspiring a team of collaborators, writes Herminia Ibarra at the Harvard Business Review.

Ibarra writes about Cynthia, who was promoted to a leadership role at her healthcare organization. A believer in transparent cooperation, Cynthia openly discussed her fear and uncertainty. But among her team of workers, the candor backfired: they lost confidence in who they saw as a timid, untested leader.

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Reflecting on her transition some years later, Cynthia said: "Being authentic doesn’t mean that you can be held up to the light and people can see right through you."

The problem with a blunt understanding of authenticity is that it reinforces a static conception of self. Someone who insists on always being true-to-self cannot permit certain behaviors because it isn't "who they really are." But who we are changes over time, both in our personal and professional lives.

"Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that concern about how we will appear to others inhibits learning on new or unfamiliar tasks. Performance goals motivate us to show others that we possess valued attributes, such as intelligence and social skill, and to prove to ourselves that we have them. By contrast, learning goals motivate us to develop valued attributes."

Researchers say too much introspection can result in a limited view of authenticity. By always looking within for answers, we inadvertently reinforce old ways of seeing the world and outdated views of ourselves. Consciously adopting the leadership techniques of others, even though they may at first feel at odds with who we think we are, is one surefire way to expand your authentic self. 

Read more at the Harvard Business Review.

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