A real leader is Authentic. The question is, can you be authentic without “selling out”?
Age and ethnicity are absolute “you can't change them. To attempt to do so significantly is inauthentic. Now, don't get me wrong, I believe in Botox. But I also know that too many facelifts won't work at the board room table. Pretending to be someone you're not won't work.
It's hard to balance on the line, to be authentic in a culture that wants you to fit in and people please. If we've worked hard to make sure everything looks just right on the outside, the stakes are high when it comes to being our authentic self.
You do not have to sell out to succeed. You can be your authentic self and make it to the top. The key is to modulate and see your appearance like a sound board mixer hears a piece of music. You don't have to obliterate the saxophone, but perhaps it doesn't need to dominate.
Define your Leadership Persona
What is your true style, most authentically? Here are some personality adjectives to get you started - choose two or three that define you:
How do you reflect that personality in the surfaces you choose? How do you think others see you? Think about the clothes you wear, your accessories, your hair, your grooming - does it mesh with that personality? If you consider yourself to be gregarious but you wear formidable clothing, there's a disconnect.
Do you look like a leader?
Maybe it's time for a style shift. What would you want to project at work? You'll note that each of these adjectives is perfectly fine, none of them would be wrong to project in the workplace as long as they're balanced and not over the top. Too much of any one of these isn't a good thing for a woman on her way to the top of the food chain. You need to be a little of all and able to choose what you want to project with purpose and intention.
How can you bridge from your current reality to project more balance? If you're too formal, adding more colour and softer fabric will help. If you're coming across as too earthy, find ways to introduce structure with a refined hairstyle or accessories that are on the polished end of your spectrum. You don't need to fake it - you just need to push to the very edge of your boundary intentionally to give the perception of balance. Authenticity also comes through in our eyes and facial expressions. Again, things that can't really be faked unless you're a professional actress.
Three quick tips for female leaders to project authenticity:
1. Women tend to be over rehearsed with eye contact. It's been drilled into us to hold their gaze. If you want someone to trust and like you, your eye contact should be held for about two seconds at a time, accompanied by a smile and/or relaxed facial expression. It's long enough to see their eye colour, and no longer than needed or you're staring them down.
2. Being authentic means being interested. Even if you are genuinely interested in what someone is saying, you may inadvertently project disinterest by blinking your eyes. Blinking tends to increase when we're bored or disinterested in an activity or a conversation. Before an important meeting use eye drops to make sure your eyes are moist and reduce the frequency of blinking to send the signal that you're paying attention.
3. To be less threatening, women have learned to smile and nod to excess. Humans can spot a forced smile because the mouth doesn't turn upward and the smile is lop-sided. Take a picture of yourself 'fake smiling' and 'real smiling' and see if you can spot the difference. Be aware of your 'fake smiling'. Do you do it a lot to cover up what you're feeling or to feign interest? If so, practice letting your face relax and notice when you're triggering the fake smile and retrain yourself.