I’ve been spending a bit of time reflecting on my journey over the past few years. As I have revisited the different challenges and victories, one of the biggest difficulties I experienced really stood out in my mind. For a number of years I struggled with the seeming contradiction between “being myself/authentic” and “continually seeking ways to improve”.

For whatever reason, I had difficulty in distinguishing between the authentic me and the part of me that needed to be changed. Maybe I simply over analyzed things, but I wanted to be intelligent about that to which I decided to be authentic. Translation: I didn’t want to be an authentic pain in the nether regions.

As I continued to think about my wrestling match with this perceived dichotomy, I was able to pinpoint the real problem. It wasn’t the imagined diametric opposition of authenticity and self-improvement; it was the anxiety I experienced when I allowed the creative tension to exist. I thought the existence of one negated the other. The need for improvement caused me to think I wasn’t enough for what needed to be done and it negatively impacted my leadership. I didn’t want to be authentic to the areas that I saw were weak. I thought if I only focused on the areas that were strengths, then I was being imbalanced.

Some of you may be thinking I was just thinking too hard, but I would venture a solid guess that there are many leaders out there who struggle with the same thing. It’s tough to talk about this as a leader because not only are you frustrated, but maybe even a little embarrassed by this particular struggle. I know I was.

So, here are some tips to learn to embrace that creative tension that comes with authenticity and finding ways to improve yourself and your leadership.

  • Understand who you want to be – Once you have decided the values and responses you want to have to issues, you have a way to improve yourself and still have a standard to which you can align your authenticity. It’s not about being fake, but rather holding yourself to a level that is better than where you are.
  • Acknowledge the gap – We all want to be “there”…wherever “there” may be. There is a future state and a current reality. In between those two things is a gap. It doesn’t mean that you can’t close that gap or that there is something wrong with you because that gap exists. It’s the nature of setting goals and having a vision of the future that creates that gap. A gap allows for innovation and improvement. Without it, we are doomed to remain static.
  • Share with trusted friends – As humans we don’t operate within a vacuum. Find people whom you trust and confide in them your goals and your struggles. Give them the freedom to be an accountability partner so your perspective remains healthy. Don’t just tell them the what, share with them the why for the changes. Be raw and vulnerable with them. It will help them catch the spirit behind your motivation.
  • Celebrate small victories – Pick a couple of things that will help you get a quick run on the board. It’s great for motivation and confidence. It doesn’t have to be some giant gala or production. Take yourself out for ice cream or a candied bacon martini…whatever makes you feel special.
  • Always have a gap – Understand that you will never stop finding ways in which you can improve. This doesn’t have to, nor should it, diminish your authenticity in any way. Will you occasionally be authentic to something that you eventually will change? Of course, but that’s all part of the journey. Leadership and personal development isn’t about perfection, it’s about consistent and persistent progress.

Have you had this struggle? What are some of the things that you have done to overcome it?