Having built a coaching, writing and speaking career on being open, real and vulnerable, I really enjoyed the focus on authenticity in “Brave Leadership,” the new book by Kimberly Davis.
In my first career as a foreign correspondent and political journalist, I wrote about others but never revealed anything of myself. That changed when I burned out in my late thirties.
I suddenly felt compelled to share what was really going on inside. In blogs and media articles, I wrote about my struggles with emotional overeating, the challenges of approaching 40 without a partner or children, and my feelings of anxiety, grief and loss.
At first, I was scared. I feared people would lose respect for me if I admitted my weaknesses. I worried I’d never work again after baring my soul online. Instead, the more I spoke my truth, the more people got in touch to thank me for my honesty. My new career blossomed.
Inspired by wonderful feedback, I continued to write straight from the heart: I wrote a book about love and, as a coach, I helped others to form healthy relationships and to change their careers and lives.
I also began to share my experiences with businesses, highlighting the importance of well-being, self-care, and good stress management.
My vulnerability and authenticity have become my trademarks. Without them and without my story, I wouldn’t have a coaching or speaking business – my clients work with me because they see themselves in my experience.
In her book, Brave Leadership, Davis says that authenticity inspires trust, and vulnerability helps us to form deep connections with people.
She acknowledges that it’s frightening to be real. Many of us have been trained to hide our emotions and to keep our shortcomings or failures to ourselves. And while corporate culture is changing, some companies encourage authenticity more than others.
So how do we get over this fear?
I agree with Davis’ advice. She says that by focusing on our "Super Objective" – our mission or the impact we want to have on the world – we’re able to take the focus off ourselves, set aside our worries about what others might think, and put all our energy behind what we’re trying to achieve.
The term "Super Objective" was coined by the legendary Russian actor and director Constantin Stanislavski. He used it to describe the impact an actor wants his or her character to have on the audience by the end of a play.
This is one of many theatrical tools that Davis, a former actress herself, uses to support her leadership work.
I’m not an actor and this link between authenticity and acting in “Brave Leadership” surprised me at first. Surely actors are playing a part, putting on a mask, trying to convince us that they are somebody else? How does that fit with being real?
But eventually, I understood the connection. Stanislavski himself said that, “The person you are is a hundred times more interesting than the best actor you could ever become.” In other words, actors who are able to bring themselves and their own life experiences into a role will create the most credible characters.
So an actor who is playing a grief-stricken mother will be more believable if she is able to get in touch with some of her own experiences of loss. In the words of Meryl Streep: "Acting is not about being someone different. It's finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there."
Just as actors can connect more deeply with an audience by being themselves, so leaders can connect on a deeper level with their employees by being as real as possible.
Similarly, just as the best actors try to walk in their character’s shoes, the best leaders try to get inside the heads of their employees or followers – how are my employees feeling? What are their main motivations? What truly matters to them?
So, despite my initial reservations, I think the many parallels Davis draws between acting and authentic leadership work really well in this book.
They also help it to stand out from the growing number of books on leadership and authenticity on our shelves.
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How can we be more real, vulnerable and authentic in the way that we lead? Join the debate in the Comments section, below.
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