Authenticity – The Lynchpin of Psychological Safety

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The last blog introduced the importance of Psychological Safety, both for our personal emotional wellbeing and for creating high performing teams in the workplace. This simple model defines the components of psychological safety.

In this blog we will explore Authenticity. What does it really mean and how do we develop our true authentic selves?

My first ever coaching client was very keen to explore his authentic self and what it meant to be an authentic leader. During our initial session I was somewhat alarmed when he described how he had told his boss exactly what he thought of him because, well, that was “being my authentic self”. My client was genuinely surprised that his boss hadn’t reacted well to his “authenticity”.

Authenticity is about being the person we really are, standing up for what we believe in, speaking our truth and acting consistently in public and in private.

Being authentic means exploring our values – knowing what is really important in our lives and why. It’s about creating routines that allow us to focus on those important things, setting boundaries for ourselves (and making others aware of what they are) so we can truly prioritise and balance the things that matter. Sometimes living our values can make us unpopular with some people but when authenticity is balanced by the other elements of psychological safety – confidence and self-awareness – then we are comfortable with that unpopularity.

When we live an authentic life we trust ourselves to do the right thing and that gives us a strong sense of being grounded and stable. We make decisions for the right reasons rather than being driven by external factors, or by our own limiting beliefs (more on that in the next blog post). Interestingly that trust in ourselves is echoed by trust from others – there is a sense of coherence in what we say and what we do and whilst others may not always agree with us they respect, admire and appreciate our consistency.

My client, let’s call him Mike, wasn’t living his values in speaking up to his boss – actually the opposite. Losing sight of what was important to him was causing frustration, anger and stress in his life and he ended up lashing out in a way that didn’t represent him at all.

At school and university Mike played in a hockey team. He let it drop when he became consumed by his demanding career. Running to and from work every day kept him fit but didn’t provide connection and camaraderie with others. Mike grew up in a small village where people looked out for each other; it instilled a strong sense of community and valuing of contribution. Mike missed these things.

Joining a local hockey club was a first step which subsequently led to a youth project keeping under 18’s off the streets and on the hockey pitch. For 2 evenings each week Mike committed to leaving work on time to be with his hockey team and made it clear to his work colleagues that this was a boundary he would keep.  He was happy and surprised by their support.

At work Mike expected perfection from himself and his team. Hugely self-critical and openly critical of others when his high standards weren’t met. Mike disliked himself for this behaviour since it challenged his values of empathy, compassion, kindness and personal development. Mike came to realise that perfectionism isn’t a value but it was important to him to deliver the best he could whilst supporting others to do the same. The “best he could” might mean a straightforward quick pass through some pieces of work and more detailed time and focus for others.

Identifying his own need for autonomy allowed Mike to shift his managerial style from controlling to supportive and also to negotiate a collaborative approach with his boss. All parties established routines and boundaries around different types of work, whereby some things would need intervention and checking, whereas others would be left to either Mike or his team to ask for help if required. Calling out when boundaries were crossed, without causing upset or anger, became routine.

Mike felt more relaxed, more connected to people and with a greater sense of balance and purpose. He achieved more at work in less time, leaving him opportunity for other activities that were equally important to him.

Simple examples which hopefully give you a sense of the importance of living our values on both mental and physical health.

Take some time over the next few days and weeks to reflect on times that brought you joy, happiness or contentment: what was happening and what was important to you in those moments? Is there a consistent thought, feeling, behaviour that represents you living your values? Then do the same for times of frustration, sadness, fear or anger. Can you identify the value that is being compromised to bring up those feelings?

As you start to realise your values put in place the routines and boundaries you need to live them – your psychological safety depends on it!


Kathy Coleman spent 30 + years in Change Delivery working for Capgemini Consulting, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and as an independent Programme Director. She delivered transformation programmes for organisations including the John Lewis Partnership, Scottish Power, Deutsche Asset Management, AXA Life, The RAC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group. Fascinated by the cultural aspects of change, and passionate about empowering the people impacted, Kathy set up her own consultancy in 2012 providing services to teams and individuals undergoing change of any kind. She qualified as a Team and Leadership Coach in 2012 and since then has provided support to hundreds of people from CEO’s to individual team members. Kathy is also a qualified therapist which gives her a deep understanding of mindset and behaviour and how to change these. In her spare time Kathy can usually be found out on her bike exploring the beautiful Cotswold countryside where she lives.

For more information contact Kathy at [email protected]  or on +44 7803 207401

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