Women, Self-Expression in Leadership, and the Powerful Effects of Acting Authentically
Appropriateness is the death of originality, empowerment and success. Authenticity — the art of being yourself, right out loud — is the quickest way to be noticed, to get your point made, and the only way to be the most deeply satisfied with your journey.
At first, it felt like standing naked in public, with nowhere to run! Terrifying, shocking, and almost comical.
The first time I stepped onto a professional stage to audition for a play, my knees literally knocked — I could actually hear them! — and the paper in my hand was audible too: shaking beyond my control to stop it. God knows how I read the lines on that paper when it was shaking so hard, but somehow I managed.
I have to tell you also that the feeling of being naked and unprotected also felt magnificent! It was a feeling of aliveness so focused, so intense, I realized that I had never before been so alive, and that I wanted to live in that peak experience most of the time from then on! But how? I was in business!!!
Well I did become a professional actor. On the side. I was absolutely addicted to the feeling of immediacy, truthfulness, openness and that quicksilver skittering of aliveness across the nerve ends that accompanies opening up in public. I still worked in corporate America, but I dreamed of becoming a full-time actor.
When my dreams of becoming a full-time actor seemed to stutter and fall away, I turned my steps toward public speaking and being a self-expression coach and thought leader.
That’s big, but I was still in corporate America, becoming more and more a leader, and more and more aware that my my now-trained actor-based authenticity was powerful. And that for good or ill, others were noticing.
For actors of course, authentic emotion and openly honest responsiveness is the order of the day, every day. It’s what we love about them. The more authenticity in self-expression they express, the more power and fascination they draw from us. That authenticity is a concentration of energy and focus, message and intent, and it keeps us enthralled.
The same phenomenon applies to anyone of any field who is authentic and who finds the externals in place to support, embrace and birth the sharing of that authenticity. Anyone who has ever been “in the zone” knows what it feels like to be in that focused place.
But what happens when we, as women in business, begin to draw that kind of attention on a regular basis?
We are so very often accused of being too much of what we authentically are: aware of/responsive to our emotions and the emotions of those around us, connective, service-oriented and process-oriented. And when we eschew or minimize those feminine qualities in order to be approved of, the responses to our resulting overuse of the masculine masks are most often overwhelmingly negative.
So, should we, as women leaders, embrace our authenticity? And if so, why should we — to what end?
The simple answer is: We must.
As an introduction as to why we must, let me highlight three aspects of authenticity and its critical importance:
- The standard role assigned to women in business over the decades has been more of “supportive helper” than it has been “trailblazer”. Enough…is enough. We are needed. and we are needed as ourselves, bringing our perspectives to the table. We are not needed as male leader knock-offs. And there are ways, powerful and enjoyable ways, to do this. So, it’s time.
- When we play “by the rules”, we take on past answers. Guess what…they’ve already been tried. And what is the definition of insanity: Trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. ‘nuff said.
- Leadership is more — far more — than running a business. We have to stop putting money as the most important thing in a business, and understand that money actually comes from people, from playing well with others, and putting the importance of people right up there alongside finance. Only, of course, if we want to make more money…
I committed myself to authentic self-expression a very long time ago, knowing it would free me, and challenge me to be more.
I also committed myself to being able to use that authenticity in ways that invite collaboration, and savvy emotional communication, rather than push either one aside!
I committed myself to understanding where boundaries are, when to work with them, and how to work with them.
I committed myself to the emotional whiplash that comes from stepping up to the front of the room, as it were, and being unapologetic about it.
Being authentic in daily life is very like acting. It is exhilarating, challenging, naked, and transformative for the other as well as for one’s self. As women leader s— as a great leader of any sex or orientation — our goal should far exceed the financial. We should be striving to be examples of the magnificence of the human spirit which includes both the masculine and the feminine, as little of the greed and self-despising and power-mongering as possible, and as much of the intent to create vehicles of improvement, betterment and care in business as possible. That is what fearlessly bringing feminine qualities into leadership can do for us and for those we lead.
If we have to face a little stage fright to have that kind of impact, that’s a very, very good trade.