Harvard Business Review

The Authenticity Paradox: Why feeling like a fake can be a sign of growth
by Herminia Ibarra

I am recommending this article because it describes a very common dilemma I have seen in myself and in my coaching clients – wanting to be authentic and yet wanting to evolve.  I see this especially in my coaching clients who are growing into larger roles.  

The article describes that to advance one’s career requires all of us to get outside of our comfort zones and how we see ourselves.  Herminia, a professor at Insead business school, has done research on leadership transitions.  She has observed that when we are unsure of ourselves, we tend to retreat to what is familiar rather than what is needed in a given situation.  She says many leaders have a rigid definition of authenticity – a certain way of viewing themselves based on past roles and experiences. In order to evolve, a sense of self must grow with the new roles/responsibilities.  She recommends a playful approach where there is constant experimentation with new ways of interacting and getting things done.  This approach involves being open to possibilities and accepting that it is alright to be inconsistent.  That doesn’t mean we are a fake; rather, trying on new behaviors is how we find out what is right for new and diverse situations.  Her research found that people she calls chameleons were able to adapt to new situations more quickly and with more skillful style.

The key to growing as a leader is to not let the story of yourself limit you. Instead, jump in and try new behaviors, have compassion for yourself, be curious, and start taking small steps.  These small steps will help you comfortably move beyond your comfort zone and gradually build up your confidence. Before you know it, you will feel authentic as your newly expanded self!


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