Humour and Authenticity

In the not too distant past, I had an experience which taught me two very important life lessons:

1. The value of humour
2. The challenge of being authentic in our work environments.

The story goes something like this.

It was a typical Tuesday morning as a busy working mum of three. I was rushing to an important meeting with a potential new client, who just happened to be a somewhat intimidating and reserved HR Director whom we had tried for months to get in front of.

Chaos of a Working Mother - The Leader's Digest

As I hurtled, flustered and sweaty, into the hushed cool waiting room of the corporate offices of our client, I was greeted my comparatively cool, hushed, and polished male colleague.

Whilst I was trying hard to forget about the school trips, sticky finger marks on my suit skirt, and whether I had packed enough lunch for my four year old, there was my partner –  confident, distinguished and (as ever) cool as a cucumber.

We were ushered into the mahogany clad offices of the said HR Director, and as we entered I did my utmost to put on the sophisticated and professional air of a woman who has nothing else on her mind, but business.

My attempts to dissolve my persona of ‘mother’ were actually going quite swimmingly, until we sat down.  Out clattered my folder, which proceeded to knock over the coffee, and spill water all over the potential new client.

Doodle of my four year old daughter, Sienna, The Leader's Digest

Doodle of my four year old daughter, Sienna.

Not the best of entrances. Then to make matters worse, I realised my folder had conveniently fallen open to this picture (above), and was now staring boldly at the woman I was here to impress as a serious professional businesswoman.

As my colleague and I held our breath, waiting for that horrible moment when you know the meeting will JUST NOT RECOVER and we may as well pack up our briefcases and leave…she laughed.

And I’m not talking just a polite, courtesy giggle…but a hooting, snorting, knowing guffaw, which said – “sister, I have been where you are now and I know what it’s like!”

What had started as a moment of utter embarrassment, fueled by my feeble attempt to hide my ‘parental self’, ended up developing into a rich and very open conversation about work-life balance, and the challenge of juggling our different ‘selves’ in the corporate environment.

As a good friend of mine recently said, instead of taking off our “different coats”, wouldn’t it be great if we could be more comfortable to bring our ‘whole selves’ to work?  To be more authentic, instead of feeling the need to hide different parts of ourselves?

Do you ever feel as if you are lacking authenticity at work?

How could recognising your own, or your team’s ‘whole selves’, serve to benefit the organisation, and the individuals who generate it’s success?

What could you do as a leader to empower people with the confidence to be authentic?

I’m not sure I have figured out the answer to these questions, however that one experience taught me how humour in awkward situations can be the magical solution to unlocking the authenticity that lies within us all…and that just ‘being’ who we really are, can be a very rewarding connector.

– Suzi



  1. Emma Dean (née Traynor) on November 10, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Once again, love it xx

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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