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The link between authenticity, self-esteem and leadership in TWV programming


The values of our organization are all in some sense inseparable, but no two go hand-in-hand like authenticity goes with respect. Two Wheel View (TWV) encourages and promotes respect through authenticity, but we also encourage authenticity by being respectful and accepting of diverse experiences and personalities. Being authentic means giving ourselves, and others, the freedom to explore the different dimensions of who we are as individuals.

As humans, we are constantly making decisions about what to say and what to do, and who we want to be. Most people, consciously or unconsciously, use their personal values to select friendships and relationships and to make decisions about managing their personal resources, such as time and money.[1] We use these core values to guide our behaviour in a variety of different situations. However, authenticity isn’t about doing and saying exactly what you feel or think in every single moment; it’s about following your intuition, and your heart, and making values-based decisions.[2] Remaining true to these values, regardless of the situation or external influence, is a hallmark of authenticity. And this is what we’re trying to help young people develop during their time at TWV.

The link between authenticity and self-esteem

Theory, and much of the empirical research, suggests that authenticity is a key component of psychological well-being and is associated with a number of positive outcomes.[3] For example, authentic behaviours positively predict goal attainment, reduced anxiety and stress, and an increased sense of hope.[4] According to Kernis, higher levels of authenticity also provide the foundation for genuinely high self-esteem that is secure and stable, while low levels of authenticity are associated with a fragile form of self-esteem that is unstable and contingent upon approval.[5] Self-esteem is thought to be another important indicator of optimal psychological functioning, especially in young people.

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” –Bréne Brown

Researchers are now thinking that there is more than one kind of self-esteem. Studies show that self-esteem that is contingent on external factors, such as social approval, success or attractiveness, has little to no effect on happiness or performance.[6] Authentic self-esteem, in contrast, is a sense of worth in our abilities and qualities that is not conditional on external evaluations. This is the type of lasting, positive self-esteem that comes from the opportunity to explore different dimensions of your personality and practice authenticity.

Leading with authenticity

According to research, ‘the expression of an authentic self is necessary for great leadership.’[7] Our youth development programs aim to increase the leadership skills of the young people we encounter by encouraging the development of their authentic self. Top authorities on the subject of leadership think ‘an important part of growing as a leader is viewing authenticity not as an intrinsic state but as the ability to take elements you have learned from others’ styles and behaviours and make them your own.’[8] This is another reason why diversity is so important to the team at TWV; we feel that people, especially young people, are constantly changing as they interact with the world and take on new understandings and behaviours they see modelled by the people around them. Exposure to new ideas, beliefs and behaviours can help broaden a young person’s ability to define the type of person, and leader, they want to be. In fact, studies have shown that moments that most challenge our sense of self are the ones that can teach us the most about leading effectively.[9]

“The most effective strategy for successful living is really no strategy at all. It is, rather, to be real, to be honest, to be authentic, to be you.” –Ralph Marston

Leadership is an indicator of positive social adjustment, which is correlated with positive long-term outcomes on a number of measures.[10] By encouraging authenticity in our young participants, we help increasehuman, ethical and moral dimensions to relationships, which improves the quality of these relationships and in turn, a greater sense of self.[11] For communities and organizations, this makes better places in which to be and work.

Authentic Two Wheel View

At TWV, we have a practice of opening and closing circles, which has built significant trust and a sense of belonging in both the young people involved in our programs and at the staff level. In order to best help the youth we work with, we need to be authentic to ourselves too, about our own strengths and weaknesses and challenge our biases head on. It’s not always easy to be vulnerable in that way, but TWV has created an environment that gives us all the occasion to go beyond our comfort zones while discovering who we really want to be.

We recognize the multi-faceted nature of not only people, but also their experiences, so we encourage the sharing of celebrations and joys as well as the struggles and frustrations we experience in life. By allowing young people the freedom to try on new personalities and to experiment with different behaviours, we give them the opportunity to define themselves and the safe space to practice authenticity.[12] According to Harter (2002), authenticity can be defined as “owning one’s personal experiences, be they thoughts, emotions, needs, preferences, or beliefs” and behaving in harmony with that true self.

[1]Daum, K. (2013). Define your personal core values: 5 steps. Inc.com. https://www.inc.com/kevin-daum/define-your-personal-core-values-5-steps.html. Retrieved 2 Sept 2018.

[2]Ibarra, H. (2015). The Authenticity Paradox.Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-authenticity-paradox. Retrieved 30 August 2018.

[3]Kernis, M. H, & Goldman, B. M. (2006). A multicomponent conceptualization of authenticity: Theory and research. In M. P. Zann (Ed.), Advances in experimental psychology (Vol. 38, pp.283-357). San Diego, CA: Elsevier Academic Press.

[4]Willaim, E. D., Hicks, J. A., Schlegel, R. J., Smith, C.M., & Vess, M. (2015). Authenticity and self-esteem across temporal horizons. The Journal of Positive Psychology,Vol 10 (2), pp- 116-126.

[5]Kernis, M. H. (2003). Target article: Toward a conceptualization of optimal self-esteem. Psychological Inquiry, 14, 1-26.

[6]Kabir, H. (2016). Why leaders need to grow authentic self-esteem.Salt. https://www.wearesalt.org/why-leaders-need-to-grow-authentic-self-esteem/. Retrieved 2 September 2018.

[7]Goffee, R. & Jones, G. (2005). Managing Authenticity: The Great Authenticity Paradox.Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2005/12/managing-authenticity-the-paradox-of-great-leadership. Retrieved 30 August 2018.

[8]Ibarra, H. (2015). The Authenticity Paradox.Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-authenticity-paradox. Retrieved 30 August 2018.

[9]Ibarra, H. (2015). The Authenticity Paradox.Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-authenticity-paradox. Retrieved 30 August 2018.

[10]McCullough, P. M., Ashbridge, D., & Pegg, R. (1994). The effect of self-esteem, family structure, locus of control, and career goals on adolescent leadership behavior. Adolescence, Vol 29 (115), pp. 605-611.

[11]Bhindi, N. & Duignan, P. (1997). Leadership for a New Century: Authenticity, intentionality, spirituality and sensibility. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, Vol. 25 (2), pp. 117-132.

[12]Harter, S. (2002). Authenticity. In C. R. Cnyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology: 382-394. London: Oxford University Press.

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