How to stay authentic under the pressure of opposing expectations

Being authentic is easy when others agree with you. But fear of criticism, rejection and conflict can overwhelm and stifle authenticity. As a leader, your job often forces you into circumstances that challenge your resolve to show your real self. How do you stay authentic when you face competing interests or opposing expectations?

1. Remember, your biology is wired to fit in. When someone tells you “Just be yourself and ignore what others say,” you fight against a primal instinct to stay safe with your “herd” instead of breaking away and going it alone. Remember, this tension between the real you and social expectations is normal.

2. Start with the end in mind. As you contemplate an upcoming situation, try to imagine how you will feel if you stray from your position, opinion or decision? Identify your boundaries. When will you compromise? What are the benefits and costs of compromise? Where will you stand firm?

3. Remember, others’ reactions are not about you. Your words or actions trigger an emotional reaction in “Joe.” He gets angry and blames you. Even though it feels personal, his reaction has nothing to do with you. His behavior is out of your control, and his rantings are his last attempt to change your mind so that he can stay in his own limited comfort zone. Remind yourself that he is doing his best from his own level of development, and try to find compassion for his suffering.

4. Manage your emotions and triggers. Intense emotions often accompany difficult situations and trigger you into a reactionary mode. Authentic leaders are adept in emotional self-awareness: the capacity to notice and understand one’s feelings and moods and to recognize how they affect their thoughts and actions. They are also adept at self-management: the ability to manage one’s inner states and emotions.

5. Share appropriately. I am often asked in crisis situations, “How much do I disclose? I can’t tell everyone I’m afraid.” Yes, you can share your fear as long as:

a. You embrace the “and.” Rarely, do you experience just one emotion. Share any negative emotion with a positive one.

b.Know your audience and adapt. Know your audience and adapt your style to theirs, while still being genuine.

c. Speak with kindness and empathy. Authentic leaders attune to their audiences because they are sensitive to the impact that their words and actions have on others.

6. Address concerns upfront. Don’t avoid them. If you know that your audience is fearful of an outcome, address it.

7. Tie into your company’s purpose and values. An authentic leader uses his company’s purpose and values to inspire employees and guide decision-making at all levels of his organization.

Becoming an authentic leader is not easy or quick. The process takes years and dedication to inner work. The benefits, though, are worth it because authenticity increases your well-being, as well as your trust of others.

Cheryl B. McMillan is Chair, Northeast Ohio, at Vistage International