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“Be yourself” – wait, what??  Someone please explain how to be somebody other than yourself. Because I can think of plenty of instances in my life when it would have been great to be somebody else, at least for a while. And of course there were times when I just wanted to run and hide from being myself after doing something stupid or embarrassing. But try as I might, I’ve never been able to not be me.

Oh sure, I’ve given plenty of Oscar-caliber performances. I’ve used sheer willpower and creativity to give others the impression I was imbued with certain capabilities and charisma. But if I’m being honest, I always felt like my acting was never quite good enough.

That begs the question though, does being authentic simply mean avoiding that type of pretense, that acting? No it doesn’t. Because underneath the act, I’m still being me, just as an actor.

It appears that the inescapable, authentic me is always there.

For leaders this may sound like a limiting perspective. Like we’re stuck somehow. But that’s not true. In my own experience as a leader, my knowledge and skills have developed, my views have matured, and my practice has led to greater self-awareness. As a result, the type of leader I am, the me, has evolved (hopefully for the better!).

Most of us want to grow and evolve – to be the best leader we can be. If we’re sincere about it, then having a clear sense of our values and principles is really important. Values and principles allow us to envision our potential, and serve as a guide in daily activity. A mindful leadership practice can be instrumental into the inquiry of values and principles. When our busy mind is settled and the noise of daily life is hushed, we can become clear about what’s most important to us, see our potential, and make conscious choices about living in alignment with those things.

But no matter how clear our values are or how hard we try, we will veer off course. We’ve all had leadership lapses. They range from a minor error in judgement to a full-fledged “OMG did I just do that?”. Here’s the thing though. How we encounter those occurrences is perhaps the most important factor in being our best.  Obviously it’s critical to learn from mistakes and improve, but that’s not enough. We have to take it a step further by fully acknowledging and accepting, in a vulnerable yet compassionate way, that was me.  That was not an inauthentic version of me, not a circumstantially created version of me, not a mistake, it’s truly and completely who I was at that moment. We may not like how we led, and know that it doesn’t represent the values we aspire to live by, but that doesn’t change the fact that in every moment, with every action, we can only be ourselves.

That’s a bold assertion. It may be hard to admit. Our tendency is jump to self-criticism when we don’t like something about ourselves. We internalize it as intolerable and it just feels bad. And the notion of accepting something about ourselves that we want to change sounds counterintuitive. It’s important to remember though, that acceptance isn’t the same as passivity or giving up. It can take great courage and strength to set aside our fears and stories in order to accept what’s true. Acceptance and action are separate, and the most skillful action always comes from first accepting what is real.

Moving beyond habitual ways of responding to ourselves requires that we train the mind to respond with something other than judgement. Mindfulness offers a simple practice of non-judgmental noticing. When the mind isn’t engaging as a critic, space is created for courage and self-compassion to arise, permitting us to embrace our humanity in all moments. At that point, an inner wisdom reveals how to realize our full potential.

For some that may sound difficult or even unnatural because the pull toward judgement is so engrained. The reality is that it can be quite natural – if we create space for it. Consider this. How would you guide a colleague who made a mistake and was being overly self-critical? You would naturally offer him or her compassion and support, not judgement. You can give that to yourself as well.

For any inner journey, the best teacher is our own experience. I encourage you to mindfully explore the experience of fully accepting the one and only you.

Join Institute Founder and Executive Director Janice Marturano and Senior Instructor Dawn MacDonald for Cultivating Leadership Presence through Mindfulness, a five day residential retreat at the Menla Mountain Retreat Center in Phoenicia, NY, on April 18-22, 2018. An intimate gathering of leaders from around the world, this intensive will be rich in dialogue, experiential learning and practice. Space is Limited. Learn More HERE.