The ROI of Authenticity at Work: Happiness, Effectiveness, and Bottomless Devotion (or Why We Do Leadership Camp)

Eight years ago, I met Kaley Klemp, a world-class Executive Coach and Consultant to high-functioning leaders and teams. She was hired by my business partner at the time, who was the CEO of a company we had co-founded. Kaley’s charter was to help us function better as a leadership team. I realized quickly that she was there to solve the “Sue Problem.” My best summary of this “Problem” was that I was passionate, unrelentingly honest, fiercely independent, and, in that situation, reliably (if not impossibly) rebellious.

Kaley asked us to do some homework ahead of our session. I ignored all of it. She showed up, addressed all of our helpful and not-so-helpful behaviors using the Enneagram Personality Type as a lens, and said something I’ve never forgotten: “Most of my client companies could use a Sue on their team.” That statement blew my mind. I had spent so many years knocking down goals, but I’d received continuous feedback that my bull-in-a-china-shop style made people wonder at times whether my strengths were worth the price of the broken dinnerware. I held a story from an early age that I was just “too much,” and this time with Kaley helped me envision a leadership style where my strengths could shine and the costs could be mitigated. In short, I had this glimpse of myself as a leader without all the self-judgment and shame associated with the mess my lower-grade personality patterns were creating.

I did a half-day coaching session with Kaley 1–1 after that meeting (and after I parted with my business partner). She asked me to think of one leader that I knew well and deeply admired. I chose Drew Patterson (I’ve never told him that). She asked me to summarize the thing I admired in Drew in one word, and I said “relaxed.” Drew was (he still is) capable, sharp as hell, kind, funny, and I saw him function as an easygoing, highly effective leader. Just realizing that this term “relaxed” was aspirational for me helped me see that my style was not just resulting in the destruction of other people’s china, it was also costing me greatly.

I asked Kaley what else she was up to, and she told me about a four-day intensive program in Conscious Leadership for executives. It was a massive investment of time and money for me, but I had an instant “yes.” I walked into that session months later with 15 other leaders, Kaley, and her then-partners, Jim Dethmer and Diana Chapman. I am not exaggerating when I say that I began crying the moment Jim invited us to close our eyes for a guided meditation. I cried for the majority of the next four days and the day after the session ended.

Last month (eight years later) my co-facilitator Leah Pearlman and I kicked off another of our three-day Leadership Camps. These are executive coaching and leadership training programs for interested leaders. I mentioned this memorable weepathon of yore to the group, and one of the attendees asked me why I had done all that crying. I have never had the answer, but I found it in that moment.

I think I was so moved by the work of Conscious Leadership because it offered me a pathway to show up as my true self in my own leadership. In the work, I found permission to be as authentic as I was. I discovered that Conscious Leadership recognized a “commitment” related to candor. This was a veritable Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for something I believed in at the deepest level. In that moment, over those days, I at last felt “met.” Although the models of Conscious Leadership offered this notion of authentic leadership to me, over the years since that first workshop — including teaching this work to over a thousand leaders at Camps, at companies, and in investment cohorts — I’ve realized that the mere permission to BE ME has provided a wide open door for me to relax.

I haven’t used this work to continue being a dish-breaking jerk; I’ve used this work to see that my trouble with breaking things happens when I feel I’m not allowed to show up as who I am. It turns out, I’m a wildly passionate person with outsize ideas, a sharp talent for managing business execution, and an enormous heart. With all that now feeling okay, even welcome, in the “work life” I’ve built for myself, I am, at last, mostly relaxed.

If there were footnotes in blog posts, this would be one: “NOTE: I am not perfect. When I get stressed, I go to the bull quickly. I overreact, my tongue gets sharp, I get fierce, I feel angry, and people get hurt.” But I see these things more quickly now. I more easily forecast the subsequent shame and regret I will feel at hurting people I care about. I’m not perfect. I’m better. And that feels so much easier inside my system.

So after Day 1 of our most recent Leadership Camp, we were talking about what Camp really IS ABOUT. And I realized that, for me, it’s about something extremely simple: offering leaders permission, a pathway, and a few tools to show up more as their true selves. Although I’ve historically imagined that wasn’t enough to take a few days and write a check to attend a coaching and leadership training program, I now realize it’s plenty.

Why?

Because there is a MASSIVE ROI on AUTHENTICITY.

First ROI: As leaders we spend inordinate time and energy trying to be something other than who we are.

“I should be nicer.”

“I should be more decisive.”

“I should be more deferential.”

“I should be less emotional.”

“I should be more open to interruptions when I’m working on a knotty data task.”

The effort of turning away from our natural instincts to be something else or someone else wastes a ton of time and creates friction and deprives us (and our company) of the benefits of our inherent strengths. In the above examples, those might be in order: setting good boundaries, keeping an open mind to possibilities, moving the team along, representing the very heart of our company or our product, and having the focus to solve the most complex issues.

When people can’t be who they are, they undermine, they gossip, they pick up side-hustles, they interview elsewhere, they write really ugly Glassdoor reviews.

Second ROI: Leaders and team members who feel they actually have permission to be who they are at work break less china. People who aren’t trying to be something they’re not tend to generate less friction.

Third ROI: Generating less friction as humans allows us to relax more and be happier. It enhances our mental health. So developing and honoring a true culture of authenticity leads to happier team members.

Fourth ROI: Happier team members are more productive, loyal, engaged, and creative.

What this looks like for teams:

Now, perhaps you’re furrowing your brow and thinking “hey wait, I don’t want to have certain kinds of people with certain kinds of personalities at my company.” I have been afraid to say this out loud because of this argument. And here’s what I’ve realized: if you don’t want certain types of personalities at your company, you shouldn’t have them. You should have people who synch with the culture you most want to cultivate.

But if you don’t let people show up authentically, I promise they will try to be the types of personalities you say you want. They will suck at it, be miserable, act out, and be less effective. Wouldn’t you rather know in the interview process or in the first few weeks whether there’s a misalignment between what you want and who this person is than to find out two years in after this person has hired an entire team of people who jibe with her personality preferences but not with yours?

You would. I believe. You would.

So I’m going to walk my own walk. I’m going to tell you authentically why we have Leadership Camp and what people will get from it. I’m going to tell you this even though it scares me. It’s easier to hide the ball, promise we’ll teach more about concrete management skill building (we do). But here it is: We have it so people can create for themselves a sense of their natural leadership style and even a tiny shred of increased permission to be who they are in their leadership and in their lives. To say what they really want…more. To disagree when they do disagree…more. To emote when they get emotional…freely.

Sure, we have tools and models, methods, and tactics to effectuate that type of awareness. And yes, we help leaders see what their true strengths are and what patterns create obstacles for the full flourishing of their potential. But mainly we open the door for more authenticity.

So, you should absolutely attend and send team members to Leadership Camp if you want:

  • More authenticity at your company
  • Team members who bring their entire selves to work, including their emotions, their struggles, and their convictions
  • Leaders who are open to reaching the highest level of their potential
  • People who will give you the honest answer to the question: “What do you want?”

You should absolutely not attend or send team members to Leadership Camp if you want:

  • A Leadership Team that’s trying hard to act exactly like your CEO, both the positive and negative traits
  • Team members who are afraid to share an opinion directly with a colleague or boss and choose to gossip about the situation instead
  • An unconnected workforce
  • A talent pool that needs to drink, get high, play video games, take 200-mile bike rides at lunch, etc, to offset the stress of a culture of non-acceptance
  • An office environment that’s no fun at all

Thanks for reading. We’d love your comments and feedback. Learn more about Conscious Leadership Camp for executives, Half-day Conscious Leadership Mini-Camps, Conscious Couples Camps, Conscious Leadership Forums and Coaching, and bringing Conscious Leadership to your company at Leadership.Camp.

Drawn by Dharma Comics