“Be Yourself” Paradox: Can Authenticity Do More Harm Than Good? Part II

August 16, 2020 | Leadership & Management | Written by Mohamed Soliman

In Part I, I discussed the paradox of the “be yourself” advice. I argued that we have multiple, adaptive authentic selves that we mistakenly perceive as the only genuine one. I ended the article by asking what could be the cost of too much authenticity and “bringing your whole oneself to work." There are at least three downsides to this current movement at corporates and organizations.

(1) You might fear a growth mindset as “it does not feel authentic.” The deep concern about being true to yourself might make you fear changing your ways of thinking to growth and adaptation mindset. Rather, staying true to the only authentic self you are aware of might validate inner reasons to stay in the comfort zone and make you believe it is the right thing to do.

For example, during a job interview, you might fear of talking about your achievements even if this is what is expected from you during an interview as “it does not feel like myself.” Another example is the fear of expanding your network as “it does not feel authentic.” The “that’s just me!” authenticity mindset makes you fear extending your natural limits to reach your goals.

(2) Justification for behaviors that are not in line with your professional role. For example, if you feel justifiably frustrated by a comment from an important client, authenticity might mean to you that blasting at them is the right thing to do at that moment because "this is who I am."⁣

The “genuine you” has the full right to feel angry at an unjustifiable client comment but it does not need to express this anger at that moment in a way that might cost you this important client. There are ways of pointing out to them what you felt about their comment in a later conversation. The genuine you can choose the time, the tone, and the location to express your emotions.

(3) Authenticity without compassion can be perceived as self-centeredness. The “it is just who I am” can make you come across as self-absorbed. How come? Instead of trying to bring enthusiasm and curiosity to your work environment, the focus on “bringing your whole self” to the job might cross the boundaries of others.

⁣For example, laughing out loud, messy look, and working with audible music might be your genuine self at home; this “authentic” self might affect your co-worker's ability to get their job done. It also can be perceived as self-absorption - even when unintended. You might be even perceived as a poorer performer due to your focus on the "genuine" self rather than work to be done. A meta-analysis shows that the authentic self-monitoring employees suffer from lower performance evaluations and are significantly less likely to get promoted into leadership roles. The many true selves you have can balance both your self-interest and others' interest.

You have multiple authentic selves that you might mistakingly perceive as one. These are not fake selves. You have agile and adaptive identities. We admire organizations' ability to grow, re-brand, and transform in response to the changing eco-system. Yet, we label people as untrue and fake as we perceive any deviation from their one "authentic self" as "not themselves."

You can explore, learn, and grow your multiple authentic selves to make adaptive decisions. No shame in embracing the multiple true selves you are. The true you might not be the character you want to project on others. The authentic you embrace both your self-interest and altruistic selves.