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Why You Should Stop Trying to Fix Yourself: Accepting Your Whole Self as an Organizational Leader


Whether consciously or unconsciously, many leaders feel an innate pressure to “fix” perceived shortcomings or weaknesses in themselves in order to be successful in their roles and careers. However, this mindset of constant personal improvement often comes at the expense of accepting one’s whole, authentic self. As organizational leadership experts have shown, bringing one’s authentic self to work through vulnerability, self-awareness and humility leads to greater connectivity, trust and job performance.


Today we will explore how rather than trying to fix themselves, leaders should embrace accepting their whole selves through understanding their strengths, weaknesses and core values.


Authentic Leadership and Accepting One’s Self


Research on authentic leadership has firmly established its importance for organizational success. Authentic leadership is defined as “a pattern of leader behavior that draws upon and promotes both positive psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate, to foster greater self-awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balanced processing of information, and relational transparency on the part of leaders working with followers, fostering positive self-development” (Walumbwa et al., 2008, p. 94). At the core of authentic leadership is high levels of self-awareness, self-acceptance and an understanding of one’s values. Researchers have linked authentic leadership to greater trust, organizational citizenship behaviors from employees and higher firm performance (Cianci et al., 2014; Clapp-Smith et al., 2009).


Self-Determination Theory and Psychological Needs


Self-determination theory posits that satisfying three core psychological needs – autonomy, competence and relatedness – leads to greater well-being, motivated behavior and performance (Deci & Ryan, 2000). When applied to leadership, allowing employees autonomy in how they do their work while also making them feel competent and part of a supportive community fosters self-motivation. Leaders who are in touch with their own core psychological needs are better able to create work environments where employees can thrive. Fixating on self-improvement risks missing the deeper importance of psychological needs fulfillment and disconnecting from one’s true self.


Specific Industry Examples


The following sections will provide examples from different industries of leaders who succeeded by embracing their authentic selves rather than constantly trying to “fix” perceived weaknesses. Through connectivity, humility and empowering others, these leaders created highly productive and engaged work cultures.


Reframing “Weaknesses” as Strengths in Technology


When Reed Hastings founded Netflix in 1997, he was determined to disrupt the traditional video rental model with a mail-order and later streaming service. However, being hyper-focused and analytical were seen by Hastings as weaknesses that could hinder building relationships internally and externally in a startup environment that required flexibility. Instead of trying to “fix” these traits, Hastings reframed them as strengths by surrounding himself with a diverse team to balance his skills. He empowered his colleagues to directly challenge ideas and bring different perspectives. This authentic approach allowed Netflix to pioneer innovations like personalized recommendations, binge-watching and pioneered a servant leadership culture that empowered employees (Hastings, 2018). Today Netflix is a global media juggernaut valued at over $300 billion.


Humility and Vulnerability in Healthcare


As CEO of the largest not-for-profit health system in the U.S., Dr. David Torchiana could have projected an image of perfection given his responsibilities for over 80,000 employees. However, Torchiana understood the humanity in healthcare demands bringing one’s authentic self to work through humility and vulnerability. When errors occurred or goals weren’t met, Torchiana took personal responsibility through open communication rather than blame. He created a “just culture” where employees felt psychologically safe to discuss challenges without fear of repercussions. Torchiana believed connecting to people through shared experiences built trust to overcome obstacles together. This approach has led to high employee engagement, lower turnover and clinical innovations at Massachusetts General Hospital that have improved patient outcomes on a global scale (George, 2019).


Leadership through Storytelling in Media


As president of Disney/ABC Television Group, Anne Sweeney was a transformative leader who understood the power of storytelling extends beyond entertainment into effective communication. Rather than hiding perceived weaknesses through polished public speaking, Sweeney conveyed her authentic self through sharing formative life experiences that shaped her values of empowering others. She believed connecting through stories built deep rapport that motivated people during challenges. Sweeney’s vulnerability created high loyalty as employees felt truly known and cared for. Her inclusive leadership style where all voices mattered led to innovative programming successes like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal that have shaped popular culture. Sweeney revolutionized a risk-averse industry through embracing her whole self and empowering others to do the same (Roznowski, 2018).


Accepting Strengths and Weaknesses as a Foundation for Growth


While the pressure to constantly improve can feel innate, fixation on fixing perceived weaknesses prevents leaders from tapping into their full potential. Research across fields from neuroscience to positive psychology indicates true growth happens from within by cultivating awareness of one’s innate traits rather than trying to drastically change behaviors. As outlined in the previous examples, leaders who succeeded by bringing their authentic selves to work did so not by hiding weaknesses but by understanding their entire selves as the starting point for collective progress. With self-awareness comes the ability to leverage strengths, acknowledge limitations and empower others.


Conclusion


This essay argued leaders should stop trying to “fix” themselves and instead embrace accepting their whole, authentic selves based on research from fields of authentic leadership, self-determination theory and examples across industries. Constantly seeking self-improvement risks missing the profound importance of understanding innate traits, values and fulfilling psychological needs. As leaders practice bringing their real selves to work through self-awareness, humility and creating safe environments where others can do the same, organizations benefit through higher creativity, trust and performance. While change happens gradually through experience, true growth sprouts from fully embracing one’s current self - weaknesses included - as the foundation for collective advancement. Overall, accepting our humanity as leaders allows us to empower humanity in others.


References


  • Cianci, A. M., Hannah, S. T., Roberts, R. P., & Tsakumis, G. T. (2014). The effects of authentic leadership on followers' ethical decision-making in the face of temptation: An experimental study. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(3), 581-594.

  • Clapp-Smith, R., Vogelgesang, G. R., & Avey, J. B. (2009). Authentic leadership and positive psychological capital: The mediating role of trust at the group level of analysis. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(3), 227-240.

  • Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The" what" and" why" of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological inquiry, 11(4), 227-268.

  • George, B. (2019, January 24). Why authentic leadership works at Mass General. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/01/why-authentic-leadership-works-at-mass-general

  • Hastings, R. (2018, September 14). How I built Netflix around my weaknesses. Inc. https://www.inc.com/reed-hastings/how-i-built-netflix-around-my-weaknesses.html

  • Roznowski, B. (2018, April 28). How Anne Sweeney transformed Disney and the television industry. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/40567235/how-anne-sweeney-transformed-disney-and-the-television-industry

  • Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of management, 34(1), 89-126.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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