Interview with Dr Todd Dewett: On embracing the risk of authenticity

Vera: Your core message is authenticity. What’s your definition of authenticity and how can it be demonstrated and accelerated?

Todd: Authenticity is about being open, honest, and real.  We all manage impressions every day.  At some level that’s just acting, and none of us were trained to be actors.  Frankly, this makes us socially smart.  We should manage impressions, but we very often take it too far.  We have to be a person as much as a professional.  Authenticity is about being candid and allowing some of your real person to show up at work too –  your humanity,  your mistakes, your thoughts, your kids, your hobbies – that massive chunk of who you are outside of your professional identity.


Vera: From your experience and work, why does it seem to be so difficult for leaders especially to be authentic?

Todd: We have been well trained to be only professional at work, to draw a sharp line between professional life and personal life.  It’s as if past generations think that to mix them will lead to rapid disastrous results.  We often fear there is risk attached to being more open at work.  Leaders are often worried about being seen as weak if they share personal thoughts and interests.  Thus they stick with only talking about work:  the goals we are pursuing, their skills, their accomplishments, etc.


Vera: How does one meet the need and expectations of audiences/stakeholders adequately and be themselves (authentic) too as these can feel mutually exclusive for some in some situations?

Todd: There is no doubt that to be fully authentic implies risk.  No doubt.  To let people know you more deeply, including your thoughts and concerns, can cause interpersonal issues.  However, the opposite is what we almost always do.  We censor ourselves strongly and agree when we don’t agree, offer false compliments, and other forms of pleasing the boss.  I’m simply advocating for a nice move towards the middle.  Think of this as measured authenticity.  Risk is still present, but it’s worth it.  If you’re a high performer, and if you have a great open-minded boss, authenticity will be embraced and reciprocated.  Of course, not every work environment or boss will be open, pushing you to think about where you need to be professionally.  Maybe it’s time for a new professional home.


Vera: You believe that becoming successful is not complex. I assume that does not mean necessarily that it is easy.  How can success be simplified? 

Todd: Success is about hard work more than IQ (emotional intelligence).  IQ is wonderful, but don’t forget the smartest people are not necessarily running the company.  Usually IQ helps you earn more promotions than most people, but you can easily stall out as others with better work ethics and better communication skills are promoted ahead of you.  Success is about clear goals, hard work, and forming really great relationships.  IQ is simply a booster that helps up to a point.


Vera: One of the topics you feature in your book Show your Ink is that of feedback. Seeking and receiving feedback is not always easy. How does a leader embrace tough feedback? 

Todd: You have to get off of that pedestal once in a while and stop acting like you have all the answers.  It’s about no longer acting like you haven’t make mistakes and experienced failures.  We all have!  Once you admit it and start really thinking about what there is to be learned from your biggest mistakes, then you’ll start to get more comfortable asking for feedback.  Start slow.  Just find one subordinate or colleague you trust and empower them to give you some candid feedback.  You never know what you might hear.  I can promise this – how others view you almost always differs from what you thought.


Vera: You also talk about one ‘using their mistakes’- can you share more about what that means?

Todd: Actively talking about a time you made a mistake, made a bad decision, or just plain screwed up can be hugely useful in terms of helping others see you as human, not just the boss.  I recommend 2-3 times per year, not 2-3 each week.  Share with others the story about a time you botched a project and what you learned.  Laugh at yourself as you share the lesson learned.  In the process, you’ll be pushing others to do exactly the same.  Then, slowly, your professional life becomes bolstered by a little more humanity.


Vera: Encouraging a culture of exponential thinking can be another challenging endeavour. What are some of the ways to nurture possibility thinking in teams and in the wider organization?

Todd: The single best answer is to remember that leaders model the way.  If you always ask for tiny incremental goals and small improvements, that’s what you should expect.  So ask for more.  Start with yourself.  Let them see you think big, set very challenging goals, and sometimes fall short.  When you do, articulate something to be learned and share it.  I’m confident that if your thinking, goals, and discussions are not occasionally audacious, your performance will not be audacious either.


Vera: You assert that it’s better to change the odds when we face them rather than play them. What are some ways to do this?

Todd:  Increasing the risk of success, or decreasing the risk of failure is possible.  It’s about building the right coalition of people involved.  To accomplish great things, first build a great team.  It’s about knowing when to take on a role or project and when not to.  Sometimes, you have to read the financial and political winds at work.  If you lack real organizational or financial support, maybe you don’t want to volunteer for that particular project. It’s about using non-traditional approaches.  You usually don’t achieve much doing things the way they have always been done.  Consider including people or departments never considered, try new tools or methodologies, etc.


Vera: As you rightly say excellence is free- what are some of the ways to develop excellence?

Todd: Here are three very important ways to get started.  First, commit to living with purpose.  That means two things.  First, live intentionally through the use of goals.  Every week, month, quarter, and year – what are your goals?  Write them down, think about them, talk about them, revisit and revise as needed.  Second, be mindful of the company you keep.  Associate only with positive, bright, hardworking people who are already successful or who are clearly headed towards success.  Your company has a huge impact on how you think, how you behave, and the nature of relationships you form.  Finally, embrace continuous learning.  Today there are more easy, low cost ways to feed your brain than ever before.  Books, blogs, articles, online resources – the list is endless.  I’m biased, but I would strongly encourage any professional to check out the amazing business learning to be found at Linkedin Learning.


Vera:  Coming back to ‘authenticity’ – how would you describe Todd Dewett in his full authentic self?

Todd: I’m a passionate learner and helper.  I want to understand and improve myself and others.  I’m also deeply flawed, too full of myself sometimes.  I need to remember humility.  I’m somewhat introverted and have to push myself into social interactions.  Yes, that’s funny, given my role as a professional speaker, but it’s true.  I’m more than a guy whose work has been enjoyed by millions.  I’m a creative storyteller.  I’m a major fan of rock-n-roll.  Most importantly, I’m a solid dad, always trying to get better.  In the end, I’m just trying to make a few decent contributions to the planet so that I feel good when it’s my time to leave!


Todd’s profile

Dr. Todd Dewett is one of the world’s most watched leadership personalities:  an authenticity expert, bestselling author at LinkedIn Learning, a TEDx speaker, and an Inc. Magazine Top 100 leadership speaker. He has been quoted widely, including in the New York Times, BusinessWeek, and TIME. After beginning his career with Andersen Consulting and Ernst & Young, he completed his PhD in Organizational Behavior at Texas A&M University and enjoyed a career as an award-winning professor.  Todd has delivered over 1,000 speeches and created a body of educational work enjoyed by over 10,000,000 professionals around the globe.  Learn more at


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