Unlock authenticity at work with your skill, poise and humanity

Authenticity: great word, great concept — it even became Merriam Webster’s word of the year in 2023. The corporate world has been buzzing with it so much that it’s tempting to dismiss it as a trendy fad. Let’s not—it’s a real game-changer.

Research backs this up: being authentic at work makes you feel more confident, engaged and happier. It boosts your job satisfaction, productivity and efficiency. Plus, it makes you more likely to go the extra mile for your job. (Source: Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership: 2021 Leadership Development Survey)

But what is authenticity really? With so many definitions floating around, the concept often feels elusive. So let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of it, and learn how to use and nurture it. 

To get to the bottom of it, first let’s look at what authenticity is NOT—it’s not TMI. It’s not tossing social or professional norms out the window. For example, oversharing is not what we think of as being authentic. In fact, it’s actually a way of being controlling. Everyone’s done it at some point, and I learned this the hard way.

A number of years ago I went through a divorce, which was logistically complicated by the fact that I am an immigrant. 

The divorce process was like having a second job, and frankly, it interfered with my first job. I was often late to work or interrupted for phone calls and meetings with the lawyers, and to control the perception of myself during this messy time, I went into oversharing mode, especially with my boss.

Looking back, I can see that I was trying to elicit sympathy to make up for the effect the situation was having on my productivity. It might have seemed like vulnerability and authenticity on the surface, but it was actually a way of attempting to control how people saw me. I had understandable reasons for doing so: I was afraid that the lagging productivity would cost me the job I badly needed as a new single mom. But the oversharing did no good: my nervous and needy energy certainly did not leave the boss feeling at ease.

So, what’s the real deal with authenticity? I break it down into three necessary ingredients: the SPH factor.

We’ll start from the top layer and go deeper.

First off, you need the S — SKILL. I have a friend, a successful female executive at a large finserv company, who in her free time loves to bake. It’s her big passion, and I can imagine her opening a side-gig bakery someday, to express her authenticity as a pastry chef. But she needs to actually be able to bake a decent pastry to be seen as an authentic baker. If her croissants don’t taste good, we won’t think that she is an authentic baker. We want to buy her goods and say: “Yum! This baker is the real deal.”

Next, there’s the P — POISE. It’s a calm confidence in your way of behaving; a quality of grace and balance in the way you hold yourself. (Source: The Cambridge English Dictionary). You can’t fake it; you build it from within. It isn’t forced. It comes from knowing and liking yourself—it’s an inside job. How can you cultivate that confidence? It comes a little from the experience you gain as you build your skill muscles, like practicing baking regularly. It comes a lot from knowing yourself, learning how to like yourself. Just like the baking skills you can demonstrate externally, this inner knowing can also be practiced and enhanced. The benefits are immense: when you like yourself, you stand up taller. You stride into rooms. When you enjoy your own poised energy, others dig it too. 

It takes courage to cultivate poised confidence because the practice requires you to put a spotlight on your natural essence, on your unique qualities, your you-ness.

And that you-ness – is the third key element of authenticity, the H — HUMANITY. Your humanity. Some humans are gregarious and some are mild-mannered. Some are slow to process change and some jump into every new situation. Imagine this workplace situation: Miara, an extroverted marketing expert, thrives in brainstorming sessions, energized by collaboration. In contrast, Wren, the introspective data analyst, cultivates breakthrough insights through introverted reflection. Both of their contributions stemming from their specific, unique traits are valuable to the organization. Consider the team dynamic: the spirited discussion led by Miara can be complemented by Wren’s methodical insights. The blend of their diverse approaches can collectively ignite innovative solutions.

When you’ve got your authenticity, your SPH factor, on point, you grow your immunity to any level of stress and chaos around you. When your SPH factor is high, it’s like stepping into a safe zone where you can fully express yourself. You’re centered, connected, and present—no need for defensive walls or status games. You see beyond facades, assumptions, and reputations, understanding the genuine dynamics between people. This is where trust blooms and your influence grows. 

So how can you crank up your SPH factor? 

  1. Grow your skills. Imagine you’re into baking like my friend, the rock-star executive. To be seen as an authentic baker, you’ve got to nail those croissants, right? So, get good at it through practice. Whether it’s mastering a craft, enhancing your professional abilities, or honing your personal talents, becoming top-notch at what you do boosts your authenticity.
  1. Build your poise. It’s not a power pose; it’s a calm confidence that radiates from within and takes dedicated inner work. It isn’t about faking it till you make it; it’s about growing it authentically. Learn to know and like yourself. When you’re comfortable in your skin, people notice.
  1. Own your specific humanity. Get to know yourself. What makes you uniquely You? Do you know your depths and details? What would you say is your passionate purpose?

Consistently raising your SPH factor by investing in your skills, building your poise, and celebrating your unique self is a journey, not a race. You want to be gentle with yourself and approach the process with self-kindness. And while it’s an inside job, you don’t have to go at it alone. Reach us here for encouragement and support or email grow@courageousbeing.com.