by Dr. Karissa Thacker

Our common-sense point of view about authenticity is to “just be yourself.” But the reality is it’s just not that simple. We all find ourselves in situations where doing what comes naturally doesn’t work. We need a bigger, broader, and more pragmatic way to look at the concept of authenticity.

In my workshop at IPPA, titled Authenticity 2.0, we will have a pragmatic conversation about the notion of authenticity. In my practice as an organizational psychologist, I have these conversations every day with my clients.

For example, a client of mine had the good fortune to rise up in the ranks at a large retail organization and become the Chief Financial Officer. At the time, the industry was beginning to experience the full impact of Amazon, and the Internet in general. In her role as CFO, my client had to help drive a new way of thinking throughout an organization of 45,000 employees, as soon as possible. The technical part of her job was not a problem. Helping to shift the mindset of the entire enterprise was the real challenge.

My client is straightforward, bright, and directive by nature. But her efforts weren’t working. She reached out to me for help. My first question was, Are you ready to try something else? Yes, she was. Her first assignment was to listen three times more than she talked. Research tells us that listening is three times as important in the art of influence as talking. Embodying this learning and interacting according to this principle takes it beyond an intellectual awareness.

Her approach was to take in three perspectives, or points of view, before speaking (unless it was absolutely impractical; for example, if she got a direct question from her boss, she just gave him the number). At first, she struggled with the process. But, over time, she began to have more in-depth conversations. One of those conversations was pivotal: The director of retail operations made it clear to her that he had serious doubts about the organization’s ability to make the necessary changes. After careful listening, she shared her point of view, which was broader as a result of her position. Later, she received an e-mail from him, thanking her for her encouragement and sound counsel. That was the beginning of a broader organizational shift.

Was she being authentic? Was she being genuine? Which was the real person—the one who listened more than she talked, or the one who was straightforward and directive? This story goes to the heart of the fundamental paradox of authenticity in leadership. We think of practicing authentic leadership as embodying the real us, the real deal. The problem is that there is no one real deal. There is no one single version of any of us. We show different sides of ourselves in different contexts all the time.

In my client’s case, if she was going to succeed, she needed to bring a different side of herself to the job. Her drive to succeed and make a contribution was a large part of her authentic self. Her tendency to take charge and dictate was also authentic. Her drive to succeed and make a contribution was a deeply held self-concordant value. Her take-charge style was habit and had worked well most of her life. But what happens when who we are naturally is just not effective? How do we bump up against reality, learn, and continue to become more authentic? That is what we will be delving into during my IPPA presentation—the question, How do we move from an idealistic understanding of authenticity to a pragmatic applied view of authenticity?

In studying authentic leadership, researchers have teased out four factors, or basic skills—ongoing disciplines or practices that we can attempt to master. Each requires focus, attention, and practice, whether you’re doing your job in finance, HR, or operations.

Wondering what those four factors are? Come join me at IPPA, and find out! We’ll work with tools designed to help you become more authentic as you bump up against the pressures and realities of real-life situations.

Click here to learn more about the Positive Psychology Coaching course.


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.