Can I be authentic in the workplace?



Authenticity is a trending buzzword these days. I use it often. Recently I learned that some feel it is overused or used as an excuse to be inappropriate. Let’s clarify.

As a youth development professional, I felt the terms “keep it real” and “meet them where they are” were buzz words that morphed into the realm of negativity from adults who used it as a means to act like teenagers or not enforce standards of behavior. Children and teens need to believe that adults care about them, can relate to them, and want what is best for them. That doesn’t mean that we have to dress like them, use profanity with them, or have experienced the exact things. I’ve seen people who kept it so real they ended up unemployed because they shared too much information or had other inappropriate boundaries. I have higher expectations for adults/leaders than the youth they are serving. When we ‘meet a client where they are’ we are setting up a safe space without judgment where they can express their needs and goals also share their challenges. When I began to notice the shift in how the term was being used, my response to “meet them where they are” became “and where are you taking them” because the goal is never to remain stagnant.

Back to “authentic”. Authentic means not false or imitation or true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character. Authenticity is being who you claim to be and becoming who society or other external forces tell you that you should be. When I encourage leaders to be authentic, I am discouraging them from mimicking someone else and encouraging them to lead based on their values and goals. What I am not doing is encouraging anyone to be unprofessional or rude. I want us to use our voices, speak our truth, and claim our power, but I still believe in decorum and manners. Transparency is the sister of authenticity. When it comes to transparency, I believe that there is a time and a place for everything. I still believe that there are things you may say to your sister that should not be said to your coworker. I still believe that there are experiences that you share with your best friend that you should not share with your supervisor. Authenticity and transparency are not a pass to have weak boundaries or unprofessional behavior.

What does authenticity mean to you? Can you be authentic in the workplace?


Nicki Sanders, MSW, CEO, is a Career and Empowerment Strategist who helps high-performing women of color in management go from overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated to energized, well paid, and appreciated. Through Nicki Sanders Leadership Consulting, she also helps businesses recruit, hire, train, and retain great employees. Nicki has an extensive background in developing and managing successful programs and leading high-functioning multi-disciplinary teams. She is an accomplished professor, coach, trainer, and group facilitator who has combined her gift for authentic relationships, Master of Social Work degree, and over 20 years of diverse work experience to create a life she loves. Nicki is a lover of cupcakes, travel, and 80’s hip hop and R&B music.

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