The Power of Authenticity in the Workplace

Jessica Calzaretta on stage at Insight Global "Without Limits" Conference

You’ve probably heard the saying “be yourself.” It’s good advice, but it’s not always easy to do — especially in the workplace. We feel pressure to put on a show, to present a perfect image to our colleagues and bosses.

But what if we told you that being yourself is actually one of the most powerful things you can do? That’s because when you’re authentic, people know they can trust you. And when people trust you, they’re more likely to want to work with you, help you, and promote you.

Jessica Calzaretta, President of Insight Global Health (IGH), understands firsthand the power of authenticity in the workplace. She recently sat down with TheEdge podcast host, Leslie Vickrey, to reflect on her leadership path at Insight Global. It turns out, trying to be like everyone else didn’t work out that well — nor did trying to be perfect.

Here are three takeaways from Calzaretta and Vickrey’s discussion to help you develop your own career path and thrive in the workplace.

1. Be Yourself

Calzaretta ended up in a leadership position very early on, just a year or so after starting at Insight Global. And she struggled, hard, for years. She was constantly comparing herself to her peers. Instead of leaning into her own strengths, Calzaretta was trying to emulate the people (mostly men) around her. “It came across as very disingenuous… I felt like I was wearing a mask at work everyday.”

And it didn’t work. She was failing at her job. Her team wasn’t growing. People were quitting on her. Eventually, her leader was honest with her:

Calzaretta had to improve, or she would lose her job.

This was her wakeup call. She was unhappy and exhausted trying to be someone she wasn’t, and all of that effort hadn’t paid off anyway. Why not try being herself? “If I lose my job, I’m going to do it knowing I gave it my all, and I’m going to try to do this my way.”

From there, Calzaretta leaned into being the best version of herself. She also surrounded herself with authentic people, partners who would be honest with her. Once she committed to leading authentically at work, everything changed. She ended up receiving four promotions in under six years!

2. Take Risks

When Calzaretta was growing up, her parents gave her this advice. “Go be brave. Go be bold.”

Being bold and brave in the workplace doesn’t mean being fearless. It means showing up every day and putting your best foot forward, even when you’re feeling scared or unsure. It means taking risks, trying new things, and being open to failure.

In 2018, Calzaretta had the opportunity to become the first female Vice-President at Insight Global, but it meant leaving her Chicago home to move to Atlanta. “I was less afraid of [failure], and more afraid of what would happen if I didn’t take this risk.”

She admits that the change was hard, but ultimately the right decision. “I received so much support, not just from my male peers and leaders, but from all of the women in the organization who were just so excited to see another female take this role.”

Calzaretta had failed before, but she had learned from the experience. Failure is often how we learn and grow, so don’t be afraid to fail. Be brave and bold instead. Step out of your comfort zone. Take some risks. See what happens. You might surprise yourself with what you’re capable of achieving.

3. Embrace Imperfection

We all have flaws, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay — it’s essential. Why?

Because admitting that we’re flawed makes us more relatable and human. It allows others to see us as we really are, warts and all. And when we’re able to be our authentic selves, we’re more likely to build trust and inspire confidence in those around us.

As Calzaretta adjusted to her new role in executive leadership, she unwittingly put a lot of pressure on herself to succeed, not just for herself, but for the women around her. “I was trying so hard to prove that I could be this perfect figure… I recognized the role that I was playing for so many other women. I felt so passionate about wanting to show others that ‘Hey, you can do this too.'”

Eventually her boss approached her about this. He encouraged her to be her authentic self, not a perfect ideation of herself. Calzaretta took that feedback to heart, and now she encourages other leaders to do the same.

“We have to show our imperfections. We have to be imperfect leaders. Nobody wants to report to a statue… It’s actually in the messy imperfection that you can garner so much respect and loyalty from those in your charge.”

You don’t have to be a “hero version” of yourself in order to advance. Show up, and do your best. Admit your mistakes, and commit to doing better.

Remember, it’s okay to be flawed. Embrace your imperfections, and watch as you start to connect with more colleagues than ever before.

Final Thoughts

Authenticity is key to building strong relationships in the workplace. When we’re genuine with one another, we can create a sense of trust and respect that leads to better communication and collaboration.

So be authentic. Be bold. Be brave. Take some risks, and embrace your imperfections. These are the qualities that will help you thrive in the workplace — and in life.