In a previous post, I identified five strategies that women need to develop their leadership presence: being authentic, living a whole life, being clear, driving their destiny and growing their tribe. Let’s take a closer look at being authentic.

“If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the
following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage,
blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.”

Brené Brown

Authenticity is what it feels like when you can bring your whole self to work, with your behavior matching your intentions. Organizations should pay attention to authenticity because it is linked to higher workplace engagement and satisfaction, better performance, and better overall well-being. It’s a talent retention issue.

It matters to individuals too, particularly women. Many women are leaving organizations to start their own businesses as a means to escape what isn’t working for them inside organizations. These women want to develop a leadership style that fits their preferences, values and priorities.

When I ask women and men about the importance of being authentic at work, there is a marked difference between what each gender has to say. If women can’t be authentic at work and aren’t recognized, valued and appreciated for what they bring to the table, many don’t want to do what it takes to rise and succeed in their organizations. If the political and competitive behavior at work is negative and women have to pretend to be something they are not, they may feel that it’s not sustainable and not worth it. On the other hand, although many men bring their authentic selves to work, when asked about the importance of being authentic at work, the majority believe that being authentic is not safe, acceptable or wanted in the workplace.

In a predominately male culture, the struggle to be authentic is harder for women, because women have to restrain behaviors and principles that seem more feminine to fit the culture – without appearing too masculine. The dissonance of maintaining that sweet spot is difficult and energy-draining. From my own practice, many mid-career women leaders describe themselves as living inauthentic lives in the workplace. Women are able to succeed in a predominately male culture, but it can come at a high psychological cost.

There is another way. The way forward for women is to cultivate an authentic, powerful and feminine presence – in other words, for women to cultivate their leadership presence they need to play to their strengths. Here’s how:

Authenticity as Strength

The same women leaders who spoke to me about living inauthentic lives at work also acknowledged a desire to bring more of themselves to the workplace. Becoming more authentic needs to be done within the context of an organization’s culture. Bringing more authenticity into the workplace must be an evolutionary process rather than as a revolutionary one. Women should, therefore, pick opportune times to practice their authenticity agenda.

According to Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnson’s book “The Female Vision: Women’s Real Power at Work,” neuroscientists know from research using functional MRIs that men’s attention is more laser-like, whereas women’s attention tends to operate more like radar – scanning the environment, picking up clues from others and paying attention to the context. Encourage women to use their radar strength to sense and ignite the need for being authentic in others and encourage them to be more authentic. Remember, there is strength and power in numbers!

Powered by Purpose

Your purpose is your life’s message. It is the message you wish to drive in the world. We are hard-wired to seek our purpose, continuously striving to achieve greater fulfillment and to find a deeper meaning in life. Each of us may wonder at least once in our lifetime, “Why was I put here?” We have a strong drive to answer to this question. The Persian poet Rumi said it best: ”What you seek is seeking you.”

Finding your purpose is a powerful motivator for being authentic. Your purpose defines who you are, what you stand for and what you believe in. When we are powered by purpose, we are able to take on greater risks and new roles that might usually feel uncomfortable. Authenticity fueled by a powerful purpose helps leaders inspire others, and that is a big part of what leadership presence is all about.

Promoting Feminine Leadership Principles

In 1989, Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, said that she ran her company according to feminine principles. According to Sally Helgesen’s book “The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership,” Roddick defined these principles as “principles of caring, making intuitive decisions, not getting hung up with hierarchy; having a sense of work as being a part of life, not separate from it; putting your labour where your love is; being responsible to the world in how you use your profits; and recognizing that the bottom line should stay on the bottom.”

Both men and women can exhibit feminine leadership principles. Promoting feminine leadership principles is not a “male versus female” issue; rather, it’s about whether we are overlooking characteristics that may be crucial to navigating business, government, societal and global challenges. In fact, in John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio’s global survey of 64,000 people (reported in their book “The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future”), two-thirds of both female and male respondents ranked feminine leadership traits as essential to solving today’s most pressing problems.

Leadership Development For Women

Having women leaders is good for business. According to new research by Training Industry, Inc. multiple studies have found that gender-balanced leadership teams can significantly impact business results. Also from this research, we know that providing formal leadership development training and coaching tailored to women’s needs will reduce the leadership gender gap in organizations. Promote these studies to those responsible for learning and development in your organization, and make it a talent retention issue!

With greater authenticity and a powerful purpose and by promoting feminine principles in the workplace, aspiring and current women leaders will be able to more fully embrace new opportunities to become their best selves and devote their full capabilities to their leadership, without the stress and strain of having to “fit in.”