11/11/2014 11:47 am ET Updated Jan 11, 2015

Authenticity in Leadership Presence

In the last 15 years of my career as a clinical psychologist and leadership coach I have been increasingly working in the corporate sphere, coaching leaders to find their own voice, to show up with confidence and sustain resilience through adversity. When I began this work I spent time wondered how safe it was to show up as truly myself in the traditional work world environment. Psychologists, after all, can appear threatening to folks who think we can read their minds. We can dress in casual clothes and generally be funkier than our corporate clients. I used to worry that I would appear less professional when I approached clients with my patient interest in their stories, empathy for their struggles and passionate curiosity about their life's dreams.

Recently there are sources to help my clients and others who may struggle to be authentic in the work world and display their more vulnerable sides. Brene Brown, a social worker, academic researcher and public speaker has made a splash talking about vulnerability and authenticity. Brown says, "The truth is that we are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect". Brown's TED talk on vulnerability has normalized and humanized the wide range of our human emotions and done a great service for us all. I smile when I hear my therapy and coaching clients tell me about her work and what comfort and permission it gives them.

Another recent source that I have found inspiring for me and my clients is the work of Michael D' Antonio and John Gerzema (who I had the privilege to hear a few weeks ago when we were both speaking at the same conference). Gerzema's and D'Antonio's research involved surveying 64,000 people all over the world about the characteristics they want in leaders. They found that two thirds of their participants "thought the world would be a better place if men thought more like women." Their research revealed that the very words associated with feminine characteristics -- empathy, selflessness, passion, patience, intuition, flexibility, loyalty, reasonableness, communicative and ability to plan in a far sighted way -- were the very words highly associated with ideal leadership.

What I find encouraging in this research is the permission for more men to display their more "feminine" aspects with less fear that they will be seen as less powerful, and equally important, that women can feel less inhibited in showing their softer sides when in positions of leadership.

Brown's body of work, and D 'Antonio's and Gerzema's research encourage us all to allow and honor the full range of human emotions and to trust that they are valuable in the work place as well as in our intimate lives. Now, 15 years after I started my focus on executive coaching, my own mission is helping clients create an Inner Coach to be stronger than their Inner Critic; for them to create an internal compass that directs their leadership forward from their unique skills, gifts and talents.

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