Being Your True Self

Does authenticity matter in the workplace?

By Ken Norton

Being Your True Self

Update: Make sure to read the follow-up with other perspectives from readers.

I’ve written about Google’s research showing that psychological safety was the most predictive characteristic of successful teams. Psychological safety requires authenticity. As The New York Times Magazine put it:

No one wants to put on a “work face” when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. … When we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

Authenticity doesn’t mean you have to act exactly the same way at work that you do at home. It just means that both expressions are representative of who you really are. Your work self is a facet of your true self, not a mask.

How do you become more authentic? For one thing, stop imitating someone you’re not. Product managers, in particular, can be prone to posturing. If your team thinks you spend all your mental energy trying to be Steve Jobs, it’s going to be harder for them to be open and honest with you. As Harvard Business Review explains:

Authentic leaders are genuine and honest, admit error, and stay true to what they believe. When leaders are true to themselves and admit their mistakes or failures, it gives others permission to do the same, changing the norms of the workplace.

Be you.


I received this email from a subscriber named Barry in response to last week’s newsletter (I’m using his first name only):

I’ve been working on a really great product with a lot of potential for the last fourteen months. But the work environment was really toxic and it was making me really unhappy. Making me doubt my own abilities. I was so inspired by your newsletter. It just resonated with me. It made me realize that all my hopes to make changes were just that. Hopes. So I quit. And I’ve already found a new job!

Good Reads

Apps for product managers. Product Hunt features a list by Adam Kazwell of the top tools and resources for PMs.

Typography can save your life. A fascinating piece on ProPublica about how the use of typography can affect safety in places like weather advisories, highway signs, and cockpit checklists.

Head of Strategerizing. “No one should have the word ‘strategy’ in their job title.” Kevin Delaney— Quartz’s editor in chief— explains.

Disney is shifting from relying on distribution partnerships to directly owning and operating. As Matthew Ball explains, the move to “Disney as a Service” brings the company closer than ever to finally delivering on Walt’s 60 year-old vision.

Originally published: May 17, 2016


Ken Norton spent more than fourteen years at Google where he led product initiatives for Docs, Calendar, Google Mobile Maps, and GV (formerly Google Ventures).

  • MOST POPULAR
  • How to Hire a Product Manager: the Classic Essay

    The classic essay that defined the product manager role
    What is product management? What makes a great product manager, and how do you become one? This is Ken Norton's classic essay on the role of product management that launched thousands of PM careers.

  • 10x Not 10%: Bold Product Strategy and Vision

    Product management by orders of magnitude
    In this ambitious essay, Ken Norton looks at the history of innovation and challenges product managers and product leaders to think bigger, to aim for 10x, not 10%.

  • Please Make Yourself Uncomfortable: Jazz and PMs

    What product managers can learn from jazz musicians
    What can product managers and product leaders learn from jazz, an art form that is all about improvisation, collaboration, and being willing to take risks?

  • 43 Best Books for Product Managers in 2021

    Essential product management reading
    Ken Norton shares his recommended books for product managers. The best books on product leadership, innovation, management, shipping winning products, and design thinking.

  • Ants & Aliens: Long-Term Product Vision & Strategy

    Why you need a thirty-year product vision (yes, thirty)
    How do you plan for the future and deliver an innovative and compelling product vision that will inspire your team to deliver winning products?

  • Meetings That Don’t Suck

    Break free from the tyranny of the conference room
    Most meetings suck, but it doesn't have to be that way. Ken Norton shows us how to break free and unsuck our meetings.

  • Building Products at Stripe

    Go deep, move fast, and build multi-decade abstractions
    What is Stripe's product culture like? Interview with a Stripe product leader demonstrate an embrace of going deep, moving fast, and maintaining a multi-decade perspective.

  • What Makes A Strong Product Culture?

    How a company's view of technology, product leadership, and empowerment contribute to product success
    Strong product cultures can produce winning products. They're places where product management is practiced (as we define it), where it is valued by the business, and where PMs can thrive and grow.

  • Building Products at Airbnb

    Snow White, storytelling, and a relentless focus on experiences
    What is Airbnb's product culture like? Interviews with Airbnb PMs demonstrate an embrace of Snow White, storytelling, and a relentless focus on experiences.

Coaching for Product Leaders

If you are interested in growing as a product manager or product leader, I offer product management coaching. I have worked with everyone from new grads just starting their PM careers to newly promoted product directors to experienced VPs of Product and Chief Product Officers. Schedule a free introductory session.

Learn more »