Having facilitated over a 100 round tables with senior IT executives, I observed that a lot of them were really challenged with being authentic. Saying “NO” to stakeholders was very challenging for a lot of them. Even though they were already stretched for resources, they would really struggle to push back when stakeholders or a senior exec approached them for a new project or request. That would then result in project delays and scope creep.

I used to struggle with the same thing. I didn’t want others to think poorly of me so I would say an ‘indirect’ yes without actually saying no but not really meaning yes! I would then find ways to get myself out of the responsibility or ask someone else to do it.

As I became more aware of why I couldn’t say NO, I realised it was to do with a lack of paternal influence on my life. My father was not around much and so didn’t really have someone to give me feedback and help set my boundaries. This made saying “NO” quite hard. Now, I have learnt that saying NO is fine as long as I can give an authentic response as to why it can’t be done. I’ve learnt that being open and vulnerable about my fears or inability to execute, has helped me communicate and engage with my stakeholders more effectively.

The challenge is getting the balance right between being vulnerable and being strong.The best leaders I’ve met are very know when to be vulnerable or authentic, and when to be strong.

So what does it mean to be authentic with your stakeholders? Are you able to admit your mistakes to them? Can you say what you really feel at meetings? Do you have the courage to say NO when you are overwhelmed?