Be Yourself…But Not All the Time

By: Julie Holunga

Everywhere we look, leaders are being told to “be themselves”. Be authentic. Let your people see the real you. Be natural. Be mindful! (I’m so sick of that word…especially when it comes to being mindful when I eat!)

[Related: Authenticity Might be the Key Ingredient for Career Success]

I agree to be genuine. Bring your real self to your role. You are a human being. Let people see that in you.

But being real doesn’t mean losing your cool when things get tough. It doesn’t mean you allow your frustrations to take control. Being authentic can backfire. It can give you an unintended reputation. Wearing your heart on your sleeve allows people to see your passion and understand where you’re coming from, and it can backfire when you are not behaving in a professional manner.

Yes, people follow leaders who are real. Who acknowledge their mistakes. Who conduct themselves in a professional manner.

This is the authenticity paradox — be real but hold back a little. Herminia Ibarra wrote about this paradox for the Harvard Business Review.

So how are you authentic at work? Think about the value you bring to your organization. How do you influence those around you? What is the impact you have on people, projects, and the company as a whole? How do you want to be remembered when you’re long gone (from the organization!) Most importantly, how you do want others to speak about you when you’re not in the room?

Given this, how do you show up as your real self at work?

Be authentic AND mindfully strategic.

Be strategically authentic. What does that mean? Align who you are, with what you want.

Consider what you want from your career. What is the next level of challenge you want to reach? What adjectives would you give to a leader at that level? How are you currently living up to those adjectives? If you aren’t authentic at work, it will backfire at some point. Presenting a persona that is not the real you could unintentionally create a sense of distrust. You could find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Don’t be someone you’re not. Don’t fake it till you make it. Don’t live up to a persona that’s not you. Find what works for you in different circumstances (meetings, interactions, groups, etc.) and with different people.

I’m not asking you to change who you are, but rather be strategic and deliberate about the person, and the professional, you present.

I firmly agree we need to be ourselves at work. Let our humor show. Our passion. Our convictions. I don’t agree that we allow our frustrations and stress to show. The common thread is to consistently demonstrate professional behavior.

[Related: Bringing Your Whole Self to W​ork, and Why It Matters]

Succeed in your skin.

Julie Holunga is an executive business coach who trains and develops small-medium size business leaders, attorneys, and CPAs to bring their careers to the next level.

Originally published by



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