Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Authenticity Paradox

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about authenticity and what Ibarra (2015) refers to as the authenticity paradox. To begin with, I have been a fan of Brene Brown’s work for some time and have really connected with her ideas about vulnerability and authenticity. Below is a quote featured on Brown’s website:


As expressed above, authenticity involves ”cultivating the courage to be emotionally honest.” With this in mind, I was really curious to learn more from Ibarra regarding the authenticity paradox. Ibarra also invokes courage, but applies it to “viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error.” In other words, she writes about how leaders need to avoid being too rigidly bound by attempts to be authentic in a traditional sense since it may be necessary to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zones and self-definitions. In being honest, we recognize we are not a known entity.

This makes me think of how I was recently talking to my husband, who was fortunate to participate in the Eureka! Leadership Program. One of his mentors had recommended Amy Cuddy’s TED talk that provides the advice to “fake it until you become it.” This sounds right in line with Ibarra’s work regarding the authenticity paradox and also reminds me of the impostor syndrome, which suggests that some of our self doubt may be less grounded than we sometimes assume.

In terms of my career as a Teacher Librarian, the concept of the authenticity paradox motivates me to continually stretch myself into new opportunities even when I may not always feel completely confident. Working as a the sole staff member in my library, I will not find myself leading by managing other employees, but I can lead through my involvement with countless others.

For instance, I have a colleague who recently presented at an educational technology conference. I am inspired that she pushed herself into this leadership experience and challenge myself to similarly reach outside of my comfort zone to participate in various opportunities, especially with mixed audiences beyond traditional library circles.

Another aspect to the authenticity paradox is the perception that we need to be completely original. Ibarra writes:
Most learning necessarily involves some form of imitation—and the understanding that nothing is “original.” An important part of growing as a leader is viewing authenticity not as an intrinsic state but as the ability to take elements you have learned from others’ styles and behaviors and make them your own.
This reminds me of Austin Kleon’s popular work Steal Like an Artist. Rather than fearing that we are not original, we should embrace learning from others as we create our own form of leadership that is uniquely ours. We employ "good theft" to define ourselves, and in this way, we may eventually arrive at our next version of our authentic selves.


Brown, B. (2015). Downloads. Retrieved from

Cuddy, A. (2012, June). Your body language shapes who you are [Video file]. Retrieved from

Ibarra, H. (2015, January). The authenticity paradox. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Kleon, A. (2015). Steal like an artist. Retrieved from

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