The neuroscience behind leading authentically.
Humans are social beings – ok duh, but hear me out. Thinking way (way way) back to our ancestors, at the most basic level, social connectedness meant your chances for survival and reproduction increased.
Studies have proven that the more socially connected you are, the better physical and psychological health you’re in. Those who experience social exclusion? Not so healthy.
So when we look at our inherent need for survival, our social needs play a huuuuuge part in why we behave the way that we do.
Our brain processes social pain using the same circuitry that processes physical pain. This circuitry was originally built to alert us of danger, protecting ourselves from injuries. E.G. we feel pain when biting our tongue. This pain stops us from biting through it and making eating (therefore surviving) veeeery difficult.
So, when we feel that our social needs are threatened, our brain perceives that threat with the same intensity as physical pain. Typically, we want to avoid the source of pain by fighting it, withdrawing from it, even making concessions to fit in and around it.
In the context of authenticity, this could look like “d*ckish” behaviour (you know what I mean), making yourself small and not speaking up, or talking (and even dressing) in a way that doesn’t feel comfortable.
Because we have an inherent social need to fit in and be accepted. Remember: social connectedness increased our chances of thriving and surviving…and still does.
We fear being judged or embarrassed if we act in alignment with our true selves and it’s NOT “good enough”. Rightly or wrongly, we tend to value other people’s opinions and their expectations on what’s acceptable or not.
This can help to explain why living and leading authentically can be so challenging. Why we can bend to social pressure, adapt who we are and act differently around those we perceive to have a higher social standing.
This sense of psychological safety impacts how we function. If we feel that we’re unable to be ourselves, it affects our mental and emotional wellbeing. And I don’t have to go in to how this impacts your ability to perform at work and your impact as a leader. You know.
So, amongst all this social pressure, how can you be your most authentic self?
1. Discover what you stand for
I know it sounds cheesy it comes down to your values. Let me ask you this: when was the last time you intentionally thought about what it means to be you? What do you value?
Try this exercise:
Write down everything that you stand for. Not type, actually use pen and paper (science also tells us that this increase retention/impact). Move past surface level. You may write down things like “I’m honest, I’m kind, I have integrity” but I encourage you to really dig deeper.
Get all up in your business!
You may end up with a collection of 30+ values. I suggest narrowing the list down to no more than 5 (because you can't be all the things) and then dive deep into those. Explore where these values may have come from and why. WHYYYYY?!
Because, when you become exceptionally familiar with who you are and what you value, your self-confidence blooms. That pressure to be or behave like someone else? It dissipates. You know who you are. You love who you are. And people are drawn to that. They FEEL the authenticity and are inspired by it. They want to be around you because they feel connected to you.
2. Embrace vulnerability
As humans, we’re constantly looking for psychological safety. We know that one way to achieve that is connection. And how can we do that?
Be vulnerable. And I don’t mean crying, being a proverbial doormat or sharing your deepest most personal secrets. And I certainly don’t mean weakness.
I mean connecting on an emotional level. To replace “being professional” with being real. Sharing your experiences, your fails, your wins, embracing not having all the answers, putting pretences aside and letting down your guard.
Disconnecting from your ego and genuinely accepting that you are fallible releases so much pressure to be who you think others want you to be.
Embracing vulnerability in those moments that matter invites others to do the same. It’s how you become relatable. And that’s how you build connection. That’s how you build trust. That’s how you become a leader that people want to engage with.
3. Do what you say you’re going to do, consistently
Thinking about all this is well and good but at the end of the day, it's going going to move the needle for you if you don't back it up with action.
Knowing what you stand for helps you to behave consistently. People know what to expect from you and this adds to their sense of phycological safety. It’s about demonstrating, through your actions, what you value. Not only talking the talk but walking the walk.
So that list of 5 values you have? Go back to it and write down 3 practical ways in which you can live those, RIGHT NOW!
Until it becomes second nature, pop this on the wall in your office or upload it as a screen saver as a consistent reminder. Else it will become just another one of those things that collects dust in your notebook!
And when you’re ready? Here are some ways I can help:
- Delegation Mentoring: A practical online mentoring experience for those who want to stop doing all the things and start leading with intention. Gain instant access here.
- In-house Team Training: We specialise in delivering workshops on feedback conversations, nailing delegation, building engaged teams and change management. Enquire now.
- Private Leadership Mentoring: just you and me. Solving the specific people challenges keeping you up at night, right now. Book in a free vibe check chat now.
- Culture & Employee Experience Strategy: Perfect for businesses who want to get HR right from the get-go, are transitioning away from a Consultancy or want to stop doing HR like everyone else. Enquire now.