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People yearn for authenticity – in their leaders, in their friends and in themselves.

But what is authenticity?

A misconception is that authenticity is about matching our feelings to our actions. For example, if we feel nervous and ‘not ready to lead’, it’s inauthentic to put our hand up for a new role. If we feel shy, it’s inauthentic to speak up as if we having something to say.

We believe that to be authentic we must have the feeling before we take the action. So we wait (and wait) for our feelings to match what the new space for us is.

Yet the research is clear that feelings follow actions as much as actions follow feelings.

An effective leader understands this, and will say yes to uncomfortable growth opportunities, even if she feels hesitant or unsure.

This is because the highest level of authenticity is being authentic to your potential as a human being.

The essence of being human is to grow and evolve. To challenge and be challenged. To make a dent in the universe (as Steve Jobs famously said.) That universe may be as big as the world or as contained as the longings of your own heart – it doesn’t matter. Living this way is the truest expression of being authentic – being authentic to your humanity and your potential.

I think anything less than this is being inauthentic.

We all hold within us a deep reservoir of potential, skill and possibility. We are not fixed in stone. We are not our past. So many of my clients have a dream or a goal, and then they diminish it by saying “but that’s not really me.” But who is the me they are referring to? If we are defined by our past then we can never evolve. If we consciously create our future, we can be anything.

It’s normal for there to be a lag in congruency between who you are as a bigger potential, and how you feel about it. Expect that, and reframe it as growing feelings, not inauthenticity. We can be nervous and be a courageous leader! We can feel unprepared and take the first action!

Don’t label this as inauthentic. True inauthenticity is playing small, hiding your light, hiding out and staying comfortable.