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The Power of Authenticity

By Teresa Carale, MHI President

The cover of the January–February 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review magazine featured: “The Problem with Authenticity: When It’s OK to Fake It Till You Make It.” Is there truly a problem with authenticity?

It would be difficult to find anyone who disagrees with the power of image. As a picture is worth a thousand words, one’s image produces impressions on others that can be deep and lasting. For some, however, there appears to be a conflict between the two concepts: image and authenticity. Some argue that there is no need to worry about image if one is authentic. Certainly, authenticity bridges the gap between reality and image.

A strong, positive image can go a long way in enhancing the influence of a leader. If there is incongruity between the image and reality, the image generated will eventually fracture, and any influence a leader initially had will be lost. On the other hand, if one’s purpose is to enhance one’s image so that one’s best qualities are emphasized, or one puts forward qualities that are most important for the job or responsibility one has, then there is no conflict with reality, and no problem with a lack of authenticity.

There are various ways to enhance one’s image. Consultants work with leaders to enhance their executive presence, as Ginny Baldridge explained in one of the break-out sessions during MHI’s recent Fashion Intelligence Symposium. The best starting point, however, is self-knowledge, which consists not only in being aware of one’s strengths and limitations, but also in being aware of how one is perceived by others and how one relates to others. This goes well beyond “This is who I am—take it or leave it.” A leader is open to changing and improving not only one’s image, but also one’s character and values. A leader is open to striving to be a better person and thereby a better leader.

Authenticity is so important that we at Murray Hill Institute have chosen it as the theme for next year’s Fashion Intelligence Symposium: “Authenticity in Fashion.” We also support the concept of authenticity through our mentoring program, leadership seminars, and conferences.

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Developing a Voice Through Assertiveness

Jenny Chen

By Jenny Chen

Recently, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella enraged the public by saying that women should not ask for raises, but let faith dictate their compensation. Though controversial, his statement serves as a wake-up call to the community that women clearly do not enjoy the same rights as men and more needs to be done to promote gender equality in the workplace. A previous Carnegie Mellon study on graduates with a master’s degree shows that despite a growing number of women graduating from college, women still make on average 7.6% less than men, in part due to their fear of speaking up. As I have learned from the MHI mentoring program, effective communication, especially assertiveness, is key to developing a voice and building a successful and fulfilling career. As a young, professional Asian woman working in a competitive, predominantly male industry, learning to communicate assertively has been a difficult, but necessary, challenge. A person with my profile is generally expected to obey authority, be polite, accommodating, and non-aggressive. While assertiveness is often confused with aggressiveness, the two differ greatly. Communicating assertively is neither forceful nor confrontational, but rather, direct, honest and respectful with the goal of a win-win outcome. Specifically, being assertive means actively managing my job rather than passively accepting all tasks which eventually result in excessive stress, burn out, and overall dissatisfaction with my work life.

To better manage my workload and my peers, I began to express my preferences, opinions and needs. I started speaking up during meetings, better setting expectations, and actively negotiating workload among my colleagues that had availability. Speaking up has opened up a communication channel between me and my team, and as a result, not only am I more relieved but my entire team is more successful.

While I still work the occasional late night and weekend, I am more prepared for them and feel better knowing that I actively participated in the dialogue. Part of the process was understanding myself and acknowledging my needs and limitations, as well as developing confidence and self-esteem to stand up for what matters. This also meant relinquishing the guilt of being selfish and not accommodating everybody's requests. To my surprise, my colleagues did not reject or criticize my needs, but rather, took them seriously and found the feedback to be valuable. I am humbled by their understanding, and realize that voicing my opinions and concerns is not about going against authority, but about promoting effectiveness on the job, a healthy work-life balance, and mutually beneficial relationships with my colleagues. A day after making his statement, Nadella recanted his words, and said that women should ask for raises. Whether sincere or not, statements like these help spark dialogue in the community and are beneficial for women as we continue to find our voice in the workplace. Furthermore, programs like the ones Murray Hill Institute offers will continue to equip women with the skills needed to better close the inequality gap. As long as we continue to forge ahead assertively and with greater confidence, we will continue to strengthen our relationships with our male counterparts and work towards gender equality for the well-being of all.

Jenny Chen is a diversified industries corporate banker.

Isolation is Never the Answer

By Teresa Carale, MHI President

Frozen, which won the Best Animated Feature film award at both the Oscar and Golden Globe, was certainly an enjoyable respite from the prolonged winter chill. In the movie, Elsa, princess of Arendelle, lives in fear and has isolated herself, trying to suppress her growing power to create ice and snow, which nearly killed her younger sister Anna. Yes, it is a movie for children. But adults should heed some of the messages the movie delivers, one of which is: that isolation is never a good response to threats or fear.

Aside from the purely pragmatic perspective of the world being so interconnected through social communications, trade, finance, etc., making isolation practically impossible, resorting to isolation from others does not make sense. It is true that relationships, which involve opening up to another or several persons (family, friends, business partners), bring a certain level of vulnerability. One can get hurt when one opens up to another. But it is a risk that a person simply has to take in order to survive, and ultimately, to be happy. Success in any endeavor hinges heavily on relationships that are built and cultivated—building teams of individuals whose talents complement each other, finding friends who are not afraid of offering different perspectives on an issue, growing in wisdom and understanding from contrary opinions from family members and others. The most enduring and successful relationships are those which involve mutual giving and a shared long-term vision of the future, resulting in the individuals’ fulfillment and happiness.

We learned a lot from the seminar “Self-Image and Purpose” that Kim Millman gave in January. Self-image could refer to how one sees herself, but often it refers to how she perceives others see her. A negative self-image can push a person towards isolation, a black hole of sorts that is almost impossible to escape. On the other hand, a positive self-image gives a person tremendous potential to do good. One is better able to be a protagonist in making the world a better place if one is aware of and comfortable with her talents, capabilities, and yes, her limitations. It is precisely the awareness of these talents and limitations that opens her up to relationships—others can supply what she does not have, and together, they can do so much.

At the end of the movie Frozen, Elsa abandons her self-imposed isolation and opens herself up to a relationship with her sister. Furthermore, she promises Anna she will never shut the castle gates again, being open to everyone. And they all lived happily ever after. May this become true for us as well.