by Karissa Thacker

As practitioners of the psychology of possibility, we live in an amazing time to be partnering with (and as) leaders. Here we are in the Digital Age, and old industrial-age structures and rigid roles are starting to fall away. Take the case of Zappo’s, which has moved to a full-scale holocracy, where the organizational chart is almost totally flat. CEO Tony Hsieh and his team have had well-documented challenges, including attrition in the workforce; freedom requires skill in managing and thinking for yourself, which can be an adjustment for many of us human beings. A well-worn path with clear rules can be comforting. On the flip side, stepping out of the comfort zone offers us more opportunity. With that freedom comes the possibility to define your role as a leader, in such a way as to maximize your strengths and the strengths of others. That’s where authenticity comes in.

Authenticity is not a new concept; it’s been a perennial and rich topic throughout much of the history of philosophy. A 21st-century approach to authentic leadership offers us the opportunity to take into account a psychological understanding of the power of self-determination. Deci and Ryan’s concept of self-determination points out that we have innate drives toward mastery, interpersonal connection, and autonomy that can be unleashed. Effective leaders master their chosen domains and build real human connections with followers, and they are willing to stand alone and be autonomous if need be. This power in shaping or determining who you are and will be as a leader is fundamental to a 21st-century approach to authentic leadership. Through striving toward the goals of autonomy, connection, and mastery, and keeping those drives in balance, we change and grow.

What is authentic leadership?
Authenticity is knowing who you are, and being it. Understanding your uniqueness and what works for you is fundamental to being an authentic leader. That sounds deceptively simple. Can figuring out who we are be like finishing a puzzle and, once we get it right, we’re done? No, the reality is far more interesting and full of possibility.

Research by the Center for Creative Leadership clarifies that leaders learn primarily through real life and work experiences, especially tough and challenging experiences. But how mindful and aware are you as you go through those experiences? How are you using those experiences to shape yourself as a leader so that you are leading in alignment with your deepest values and motivators? Authentic leadership is about living and working in alignment with your best self, through intention, awareness, and behavior choice. In case this notion seems overwhelming, realize that it is not possible to be intentional, aware, and coming from a clear sense of choice all the time. But, with practice, you can up your percentage.

Fixed mindset versus growth mindset
How do you approach practice? Relax, take a deep breath, and take in the concept of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. Renowned researcher Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, teaches that if we approach situations from a more open perspective of learning and growing, we are more likely to learn and grow. In contrast, if you approach yourself, or any situation you’re dealing with, as if it is fixed or immutable, it likely will be.

We can choose to approach our development as authentic leaders from a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset declares that we are either authentic or not. In a growth mindset, we choose the learning perspective. We are curious about how we can continue to become more authentic. Try the discipline of asking yourself this one question as you navigate your work realities this week. In the heat of the moment, ask yourself: How can I be more authentic as I am accomplishing this goal? The key word is as. The goal of being more authentic becomes real when we are working at who we are as we are doing our work.

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments the better.” Give the question a try this week and see what happens!

To learn more about authentic leadership, join Karissa for our Authentic Leadership webinar series.


Karissa Thacker is a management psychologist who has served as a consultant for 200 Fortune 500 companies, including UPS, Best Buy, and AT&T. Her specialty is executive coaching, with a focus on increased performance combined with increased individual satisfaction at work. Karissa is the founder and president of Strategic Performance Solutions, Inc., a management consulting firm creating innovative solutions in the space of human performance and satisfaction at work. She serves as adjunct faculty for the Lerner School of Business at the University of Delaware.