Are You Being Your True Self--or a Hypocrite?

Last Updated Apr 14, 2011 11:23 AM EDT

The online era has spawned a revolt against canned messages from corporations and top executives. Workers want their leaders to be "straight up." As a result, authenticity has taken on a new importance.

So what is your authenticity strategy? Are you being true to your principles? Or are you seen as a hypocrite?

An authenticity strategy does not mean doing whatever you feel like or saying whatever comes into your head (it would have been plenty authentic if I'd cursed out a few employees over the years). Instead, the quest for authenticity should prompt you to ask yourself three critical questions.

1. What are my core values?
Authentic leaders are clear about the values that drive them. Maybe it's a commitment to high-quality service. Or work-life balance in your company. Or absolute integrity and transparency. As a leader, you should determine what principles you hold most dear - and that's what should guide your actions and decision-making. (Books like Tom Rath's Strengths Finder 2.0 and Daniel Goleman's Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence can help.)

2. How do I convey those values through my actions?
Make a list of common situations in which your actions can speak louder than words. If customer service is a top priority of yours, get out from behind your desk and spend a day on the front lines, answering phones or taking orders. If you value work-life balance, make sure to head out the door by 6 p.m. - and tell your team they'd better get lost, too. And if you want to live out your commitment to organizational truth-telling, you better not shut down your employees' opinions in meetings or "kill the messenger" if someone comes to you with bad news. You can make a lot of progress by being mindful, and sometimes calling in an executive coach to double-check your perceptions (via observation and talks with your colleagues) can uncover blind spots.

3. How do I convey my values through my words?
If you know your values and live them out, your colleagues will respect your authenticity. But to spread your values - and your personal brand - more widely, you'll also need to talk about what you're doing. Consider writing articles or opinion pieces for your company newsletter or trade journal highlighting your key values ("Why Work-Life Balance is Key to Success in the Insurance Industry"). Speak at industry conferences and talk about your experiences and lessons learned ("The Challenge - and Opportunity - of Creating a Truth-Telling Workplace"). Advocate within your company to make your top issue a priority ("Acme - THE quality service company"). Making others aware of your effort - if you avoid bragging and make sure to praise your entire team - will help build support both inside and outside your firm.

Ultimately, being authentic isn't about letting your personality run wild. It's about determining what's most important to you, living it, and getting others onboard so you can create a powerful - and meaningful - workplace culture.

Have you, or your supervisor, been successful about being authentic? What would you add to this list?


Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.
image courtesy of flickr user, kelsey_lovefusionphoto