Change How You Are, Not Who You Are

Change for Good

As an Executive Coach, my job is to help people change for good. Not everyone is ready for such a project.  Some people just want everyone around them to change instead. And others worry that if they change their behaviors, they’ll come off as inauthentic—a fake. Truth is, if you’re unable to adapt your approach to people and situations, your relationships will suffer and your career will hit a wall.

Authenticity Misunderstood

Authenticity is about being real…not rigid.  That is, it’s not about stubbornly holding on to valued personality traits—or even beliefs—that aren’t working. The most successful leaders adapt to people and situations gracefully and appropriately.

Authentically Adaptive

I once had the pleasure of working for an inspiring leader who made the difficult transition from mid-level manager to C-suite executive.  Three of his most prized personal qualities were:

  • Passionate
  • Gregarious
  • Intelligent

Culled while growing up in the Middle-East, and honed for business in New York City, these traits were part of a mixture that propelled him to success. It wasn’t until he landed a job in Northern California, in a company culture known for being ‘nice’ and agreeable, that he rain into trouble.

With the help of a coach, he came to quickly see that people were misunderstanding his intent. People thought he was intimidating, closed-minded, and a poor listener. His communication style was masking qualities and values such as being open to influence and deep care for others. He could have claimed that these traits were “part of his DNA,” but he cared more about being effective than being rigidly right.

You Are Bigger than Your Personality

Contrary to what you might have heard, your MBTI, DiSC – or any other personality inventory score—is not etched in stone, and is certainly not an excuse for poor adaptability. You are responsible for your beliefs, values, and behaviors. And you can change them.

Assess Yourself

Authenticity requires a deep understanding of yourself. Adaptability requires a deep understanding of others: what they need and how you affect them.

Before you can make any changes, you must first get an objective assessment of what is and isn’t working. Here’s one way:

1. Make a list of valued traits that best describe you.

2. Find someone you respect, who can be objective and honest with you. If you don’t have such a person, consider using a neutral party like a coach.

3. Ask this neutral person: When does this quality work well? When does it undermine me?

For example, let’s assume you describe yourself as passionate. They might tell you that this trait:

  • Works well when you devote passion to developing your team.
  • Undermines you when you devote passion to winning an argument.

Authentic Advice From an Undercover FBI Agent

Still doubt whether you can be authentic and adaptive at once? This post was inspired by LaRay Quy, who wrote 5 Ways to become a more authentic leader. I suspect that if she can figure out how to call up her authentic self while serving as an undercover FBI agent, we normal folk can too.

“People can spot inauthenticity from fifty paces. Show up as yourself consistently. Unless of course, you are a jackass.”

- Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership

Other Resources

We’d like to hear from you!

How do you adapt your favorite personality traits to people and situations? We’d love to know!



  1. Alan Saporta says:

    Great, great article! I think I know of which inspiring leader you speak of as I was lucky enough to have him as one of my mentors. Authenticity can be a difficult concept to explain yet it is of incalculable value. Thanks again for the post.

  2. Thanks Alan and yes, I do think you know him. If you have any suggestions for how you describe authenticity, I welcome them! Take care. Denise

  3. Tom Eakin says:

    Thank you for this article, Denise!
    Our values inspire us to live out our passions. It can be very difficult to understand how your passion is manifested in your behaviors from the point of view of others. When you’re trying to be the person you want to be and only relying on your own myopic perspective you often cannot be that person because the people in your World won’t allow it.

    The people in your World will reflect the person you’re showing them back to you through their reactions. It is very rare to get honest and accurate feedback from someone because of the fear of conflict. Subsequently, their reactions will create obstacles you don’t expect and sometimes don’t see or understand the cause of.

    I created GPS Theory as a tool for people to ask the people in their world to to help them be the person they want to be. The application facilitates a process of identifying Core Values, self-evaluation and the opportunity to ask the people in your World to measure how well you personify those values in your behaviors. The process provides them with a safe and secure environment, free from fear and conflict, to give them the feedback you need. I believe GPS Theory can be a very effective, low-cost and efficient tool for coaches to help their clients see what they need to see so they can start the changes they need to achieve Life-Long Success.

    My web developers are working on some last minute changes to the GPS Theory application on my website but I’m expecting it to beta launch this week. That means, anyone will have the opportunity to try it out for free for about 30 days. I’m very interested in getting feedback from coaches, like you, to help me make it a great tool and would appreciate your help in understanding where my message and the tool needs some refinement! Thanks so much!


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