No, this isn’t another “Work from Home Zoom meeting gone bad” post. It’s a post about daring to be authentic – to bring your true self to work, and letting people see who you really are. That’s the premise of Naked at Work: A Leader’s Guide to Fearless Authenticity by Danessa Knaupp. She starts out the book with a story where she tells her good friend and advisor he’s lost his mind.
“I think you should teach a class on confident, authentic leadership.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “I am not confident. About anything. I’m a blind squirrel rummaging around the forest floor; occasionally, I find a nut, but only after a whole lot of rocks. I fail constantly. I started getting smacked in the face by the ball in elementary school, and the hits have just kept coming.”
Here’s her reasoning:
“I’ve started three businesses and shuttered two. I’ve built teams numbering in the hundreds that I later had to lay off. I nearly declared bankruptcy. I walked away from a lucrative position as a very senior executive with no backup plan. My first marriage failed.”
But as the introduction to the book unfolds, she realizes that all these failures are exactly why she could – and should – help leaders lead more courageously. She can coach them not despite her mistakes and failures, but because of them.
Here’s what she tells executives and other leaders: “The unique path each has traveled to this spot, with every disastrous mistake and seemingly insurmountable challenge, has prepared them perfectly for the role they now hold. And they’ve thought, no doubt, I was out of my mind.”
I’ve written before about Impostor Syndrome, the persistent, sometimes crippling feeling that you’re not as good as everyone thinks you are. That you’re one wrong move away from failure and being unmasked as the fraud you really are. It’s a terrible feeling, and many leaders suffer from it. A 2019 Impostor Syndrome study conducted by author Clare Josa revealed that 55 percent of senior business leaders have not asked for a pay rise they knew they deserved or gone for a promotion they knew they were capable of in the past few years, due to impostor syndrome.
Danessa Knaupp says that we’re hard wired to remember and relive our failures, including (in great detail) the sickening shame and fear that we experienced during the times we were failing. That includes failing your 7th grade algebra test, which lives and looms as vividly as the time you were fired from your dream job in your 40s.
Knaupp believes that shame from our past sucks the life and energy out of our present. “That internal [negative] dialogue can derail many. It can cause them to work to conceal who they are, to pretend they are someone they’re not. The insecurity and shame they feel interferes with their work.” The energy you spend on hiding shame keeps you from being open. It requires you to hide a part of who you are and to avoid situations that make you feel vulnerable, missing valuable opportunities to connect.
Whether the difference you see when you look in the mirror makes you weaker or stronger isn’t random; it is entirely up to you. More about how you can choose to tell your story differently in future posts.