I didn't get where I am today... without authenticity

Being authentic means sometimes ignoring the directive of your boss, says Mary Whenman, MD, corporate, financial and PA at Weber Shandwick.

Mary Whenman: MD, corporate, financial and PA at Weber Shandwick
Mary Whenman: MD, corporate, financial and PA at Weber Shandwick

When I was an account director working at an agency in the 1990s, I was at the monthly team drinks hosted by our CEO. My then (male) boss came up to me and told me I should not speak to anybody below account director level during the event or be seen to mix with people junior to me.

After I’d got over the initial shock of his ‘advice’, this incident shaped the type of leader I was to become. I decided that ignoring people who were perceived to be ‘junior’ to me was not only social suicide but would also be a significant career mistake. This taught me a valuable lesson about being authentic to your core values and not blindly doing something that is not true to who you are, just because your boss says so.

Ten years later, when I was working as a director in a global agency, I left to set up as an interim consultant when I was pregnant with my first child. Working as an interim for almost seven years taught me two things.

First, the size or location of your desk is completely irrelevant to the power or status you have within an organisation; you achieve both through your ability to influence others. Second, if you are in your career for the long-term, the account executives your boss once asked you to ignore at company drinks will one day become agency directors or in-house comms directors.

So network not just with your peer group and those senior to you, but also with those starting out in their careers as they are the future of our industry. Authenticity means standing firm to your values and having the confidence to be yourself at work.

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