I was at a speaking engagement last week and the next day received the following letter from an attendee. To me it speaks of the very personal experience of a former corporate leader and why she left her workplace. I share this letter with you because I want us to engage in a conversation about why authenticity is so needed in workplaces. In my upcoming book Wired for Authenticity (June 2015) I share neuroscience data showing that authentic connections with one another in our workplaces are good for our health (our immune systems, our stress levels, our cardiovascular health). They also create inclusive environments where innovation and engagement happen. Read on for Mary’s experience of inauthenticity in her workplace.

Mary’s Experience

“Dear Henna,

Thank you very much for your brilliant speech on Wednesday! I regret that I did not have a chance to speak with you one on one during the CEO Roundtable.

What you talked about really resonated deeply with me, and gave me a better understanding of why I found my previous corporate life to be so void of passion, emotion, and joy! I used to think that there was something wrong with all of my previous employers, because I always ended up unfulfilled and not liking the job after a short time. Finally, I realized the problem was that I had chosen environments and a career path envisioned by others, and I wasn’t being true to myself. I wasn’t being my authentic self, as you said. So many companies not only discourage people from being authentic, but they go so far as to punish those who are. At least, this has been my experience after over a decade in the workforce. Unlike you, I never even figured out how to shake the corporate tree/monster and get to any level that I would have considered successful. My greatest success was throwing off the corporate shackles in August, and starting my own business.

Despite no longer having a stable paycheck and not knowing when I’ll make the next dollar, I am so much more personally satisfied working for myself, running my own business! I feel that I am being true to myself, and that I am working, living, and doing things in ways that are authentic and true to me.”

As you read this letter look around you and look within you. Is there someone in the next cubicle who seems disengaged? Is someone you lead not bringing all their passion and commitment to the job? Could this be the experience of someone you think is difficult to motivate or work with? Could this be your experience for too many days in a row?

One of the seven practices of authentic leadership I talk about in Wired for Authenticity is “Stay Curious”. Before you judge the person who is not performing to your expectations try asking them the question, “When do you feel most motivated, energized, and alive?” Let’s together start a conversation about bringing more aliveness into our workplace. Imagine what could be possible if we all harnessed the discretionary energy, joy, and passion that comes from stepping into our authentic selves. Our workplaces will benefit and so will each of us.


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