Authenticity is a dangerous word believes Dorothy Grandia. One of the speakers at TEDxDelftWomen 2015, Grandia takes on the event’s theme with skepticism. A faculty member at the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO), of the Rotterdam School of Management/Erasmus University, she helps women at mid-management levels in businesses and public organisations achieve more leadership influence and rank by improving their leadership communication style. “There is a lot of research that shows that women deal with the risk and doubts that arise in leadership roles differently than men,” she said.
This is the question her talk explores; how feeling the need to be ‘authentic’ can be a disadvantage for women when it comes to leadership. “I am all for authenticity, but part of the way it’s perceived by women in the business world is making the concept ‘authenticity’ an obstacle to developing women’s full leadership potential. For too many of the women I work with, ‘authenticity’ implies that a woman should not adapt her communication style to what’s called for in different leadership situations. When leadership calls for decisiveness in the face of doubt or ambiguity, women are less likely to project confidence in their tone of voice and body posture – in spite of the risk associated with doubt or ambiguity – than men. That signal of lack of confidence is in turn making women seem less effective as leaders.”
Grandia’s exploration of how leaders behave started early in her career. She started her career working in politics, a communication platform where power and the projection of confidence go hand in hand. She observed the communication methods used by powerful leaders and the key seemed to be that the best of the lot could choose which face to put in front of which audience. “They could stay authentic to themselves and yet show different sides of themselves in different contexts.”
From politics, Grandia moved on to operatic singing – an even more complex communication platform, as actors strive to find something authentic – something of themselves – in the characters they enact. “It was really about being authentic even while being fake.” As she started winding down her involvement with opera, Grandia moved into communication coaching.
Platforms such as TEDx are “critical” she believes. “The monster that is gender inequality is a multi-headed Hydra. Creating awareness of what’s feeding that monster is foundational to creating change. TED is a platform for awareness with a global reach. The people who give, attend, listen to, and share these talks are mavens: the experts and changemakers who in turn will create the change.”
A previous TED talk that sets the stage for Grandia’s own is Amy Cuddy’s Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. Cuddy explores how faking confidence can lead to a feeling of genuine confidence and control over a situation. And women who believe too broadly in the principle of authenticity, she says, are less likely to fake it.