I’ve learned a lot about leadership over the years. The biggest lesson? Being authentic makes you a better leader.
That means showing up as your true self at work — and for me, that means embracing being an introvert. Doing that has helped me improve the way I communicate with others, embrace new thoughts and ideas, and foster trust throughout my team.
Years ago, I was part of a sales team with fantastic leadership, but it wasn’t a culture that supported the integration of life and work. At the time, I was dealing with my son’s medical concerns, and it seemed crazy to try and pretend that it wasn’t on my mind.
I decided to kick off a business meeting by telling his story, including the way I was feeling about it and the impact it has had on my family and work life. It was a huge risk — not only because I’m an introvert and operating that way didn’t come easily, but also because I had no idea how it would be received.
I thought the women in the group would respond, but surprisingly, it was the men who approached me afterward to share their personal stories. They thanked me for being so open — my vulnerability gave them permission to also be vulnerable and feel safe to share.
That’s when I realized that being “raw” — showing your vulnerability or being truthfully candid — can actually be very powerful. It sparked a new way of thinking about the way we intertwine our personal and work lives in this increasingly connected world.
The Power of RAW Leadership: Leading with Authenticity
That belief led me to develop the idea of RAW Leadership as a radical acceptance of these three pillars:
- Curiosity in the workplace
I hold these leadership values dear as they are supported and upheld through lived experiences at work and beyond. For me, it all started with authenticity.
We hear the word “authenticity” a lot, especially when talking about leadership values. Authenticity is about being your true self in every moment, staying true to you. It’s something that can’t be turned on like a switch. It must be practiced every single day, and I’m still practicing it.
What Does It Mean to Live and Lead as Your True, Authentic Self?
Think about childhood. You dance around and don’t care what others think. As you get older, you start to create a persona with self-imposed rules, like, “It shouldn’t be that way,” “I can’t do this,” or “I’m not enough.”
That is just a perception you’ve created — but you believe it’s true — and with these perceptions, you begin to create a new persona as a form of protection. With practice, you can separate perception from reality.
It’s not easy, but as you start to learn more about yourself and identify your triggers, you can learn how to shift back quickly to your authentic self — where your real power is.
Over the last few years, I discovered that I was showing up in C-suite meetings differently than I show up to lead my team. To understand why, I had to do some work around how and why I had created a false persona. I learned that I am sensitive to those I look up to not recognizing my value.
As you learn more about yourself, you quickly learn what triggers you, and you can practice skills to shift back to your authentic power. This was a time I also learned to see my introverted self as a superpower.
Being an Introvert Can Give You Power
Being an introvert powers me as a people leader and solution provider. It’s given me the courage to explore my communications and relationships with others and be transparent about the good and bad.
Most importantly, it’s taught me to be open-minded to a diversity of thoughts and ideas. That’s led to deeper relationships and a greater level of trust with my team.
Introverts are great listeners. I’m that person people call for advice because I listen deeply first. I don’t rush to conclusions. I’m sure there are many types of introverts, but I’m one who craves meaningful conversations and likes to let them flow naturally, silence included. There’s a lot of power in silence.
Introverts are more interested in lifting other people into the spotlight instead of being in it themselves. Still, because extroverts are more likely to interrupt conversations, introverts also have to learn to speak up sooner, while remaining thoughtful and respectful.
Challenging conversations are a great opportunity to practice these skills. Walking into a challenging conversation with an expected outcome will not promote your authentic power. You’ll go in pitching your idea and only listen for the supporting evidence to your point.
You have to let go of being right, and trust in yourself. Make sure you’re making them feel heard just as much as you want to be heard. This has made a big impact on my conversations over the last two years. The dynamics of meetings have changed as I work to build connection by showing up authentically and listening intently.
Introverts Make Strong Leaders
Many people think introverts aren’t strong leaders, can’t be successful climbing the career ladder, and can’t show up like extroverts. That’s not true. Introverts make great leaders because they’re thoughtful, intentional, and open to new ideas.
As an introvert, I often hear that people think I don’t like them when we first meet. At the same time, when I tell people I’m an introvert, they don’t believe me.
Introverts have a slight disadvantage as they climb the ladder due to the idea that being quiet adds no value, and that introverts can’t be dynamic and loud. Neither of these is true. Silence is one of the powerful plays in negotiations, and introverts can absolutely be social and outgoing. They just might not jump in right away and likely need to recharge quietly afterward.
A strong leader will demonstrate attributes of both introverts and extroverts, listening with curiosity, showing empathy when needed, helping to find solutions, and not rushing to conclusions. People want to feel heard, have autonomy and purpose, and enjoy the ride.
The Bottom Line
Worry less about what you’re not and more about embracing your true, authentic self. Be you — whoever that is — and lead with authenticity, vulnerability, and curiosity.
About the Author
Colleen Bashar is senior operations and sales executive focused on enterprise software for 20+ years.