Reflections on leadership: the value of authenticity

by Sue-Ellen Wright - Managing Director Aerospace Defence and Security | minutes read

As part of our Sopra Steria wellbeing training programme, I was asked to share my perspective on how we can lead with authenticity in order to create connections across a now predominately remote organisation. I decided to be totally honest, and said that there have been times in my professional past when I was made to feel that authenticity was actually a bad thing in the work environment. ‘Professional’ leaders were polished, perfect, aloof and poised. Showing too much of your personality or bringing your authentic self to work seemed like something to avoid

 

Fast-forward to 2021 and the opposite seems to be true. I explained to session attendees that after a year of leading the aerospace, defence and security business remotely I have started to appreciate that being authentic, and having the courage to be imperfect, actually seems to resonate really well. Indeed, I am fully embracing it. I read a small excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, which was a reading at my wedding.

 

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nanna came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

 

 

It explains authenticity in a nutshell, and why being an authentic leader wins for me every time. Leadership isn’t about being perfect; it’s about being bold, open, sometimes vulnerable, and connecting with people – something more important now than ever. It’s about knowing your individual limitations, learning from and championing the people you lead. Different qualities have been brought to the fore during the Covid-19 pandemic, and bringing our whole selves to work has never been more relevant. In the words of our recent wellbeing campaign for employees, it is ok to find this all a bit challenging and it is ok to ask for help.

 

I was surprised by the sheer volume of messages I received after that session saying how much of what I had said resonated with people, several of which were from people within our organisation I had not yet had the pleasure of meeting. It was really very humbling to think that in telling a story about me, I had actually in some small way enabled people to feel connected. 

 

So, on International Women’s Day, I #choosetochallenge the assumption that being professional trumps being authentic – I’m convinced it’s quite the opposite.


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