Think about what kind of leader you could be if you knew, with absolute certainty, that you were the best person for the job. Now, think about all the reasons you can’t be that leader. The stories you carry, your failures, the realities of your organization—everything that’s in your way.

The truth? You can be the strong, inspirational leader you imagine by leading authentically. But you have to peel back the facade and get naked. Many books tout the benefits of authenticity, but none explains exactly how to lead authentically or considers the rewards and risks of that choice. Danessa Knaupp wrote Naked at Work: Naked at Work: A Leader’s Guide to Fearless Authenticity to do both, while also making the case for authentic leadership and detailing the proven, step-by-step process used in elite executive coaching.

Published with permission from the author.

I recently caught up with Danessa to find out what inspired her to write the book, her favorite idea she shares with readers, and how she’s applied that idea in her own life.

What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?

The more time I spent as an executive coach, the more I heard the same story from my client leaders: they didn’t have exactly the right stuff to lead, or they’d made it there despite some of their failures. So many of them were eager to conceal things that they thought weren’t right.

I recognize that story. It’s a story that I told myself for years as a senior leader. I would think: I’m not the same as these people. I don’t have an MBA. I haven’t taken a business class. That created distraction. It was like something shiny in my peripheral vision. I would look at it instead of focus on the task at hand. My energy was divided as I monitored my internal interference.

The exact moment when I decided to write the book was when I had a knee jerk reaction to something a friend and a colleague said to me. We were talking about ideas and he said, “I think you should write a book on confident, grounded, authentic leadership.” I’m well qualified to write this book, and still, my first knee jerk reaction was, “Who, me? You gotta be kidding. I have fallen flat on my face so many times I can’t even count. That’s not a book I should write.”

I realized that even when we’ve done the work, even when we are noticing the stories we tell ourselves, that we really need to understand how to step into the comfort of our full story.

As I got deeper into the topic and started writing, I understood that we don’t talk a lot about the benefits of authentic leadership. Leading authentically isn’t about doing so because you want to feel better as a leader. Leading authentically is actually far more effective. We’ve studied that academically and proven it and we’ve certainly seen it anecdotally.

So what spurred the book was this hunch that we needed to have a conversation about how to be authentic at work and fully harness that power. As I continued to research, I realized not only had we not talked about how, but we hadn’t really talked about the business case and why.

Published with permission from the author.

What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?

My favorite specific actionable idea in the book is about mining your failures. So I have failed more times than I’d like to admit. I talk about it openly because those failures have shown me my superpowers. I have learned things as I’ve failed that I would not have learned otherwise.

I want readers of the book to sit down and think about the failure they’re carrying and what was born of that. What do they do differently that serves them? What superpower has emerged?

What’s a story of how you’ve applied this lesson in your own life? What has this lesson done for you?

I wish I’d learned this lesson with my first failure. I was 16 years old, fully self conscious, and performing in a play in my high school. This was pre-YouTube days, so we had nothing that could entertain folks, which meant this play was a big deal. Over the three nights the play would run, it would draw in over 1,000 people from our sleepy suburb.

I stepped on that stage, ready to dazzle the packed house. I opened my mouth to sing—and couldn’t remember a single word of my song. Nothing. It was so bad. People were standing up and calling the words out to me. I was humming, I was twirling around. I’d occasionally shout out a word. I remembered sort of off key and off-kilter. I did it three nights in a row. I miserably and epically failed in front of everyone I knew. It was so bad that five years later, the vice principal saw me and asked how often I sang that now that I was in college. So, yeah: epic failure.

But what it taught me was I could survive it. I left for college braver than I’d ever been before because I didn’t fear looking silly or stupid. I had looked about as stupid as you can look and survived. And so for me, that lesson informed the next chapter of my life and frankly, those lessons I gained from mining my failures continue to inform what I do. They continue to remind me of how resilient we are. They continue to show me how creative we are when our first idea doesn’t work. And so I’ve become a champion of failure because I believe it.

To learn more about how to lead authentically at work, you can find Naked at Work: Naked at Work: A Leader’s Guide to Fearless Authenticity on Amazon.