I started at Apple fresh out of college in 2002. Steve Jobs had cultivated a strong and pervasive culture among its 7,000 employees. Like any twentysomething in his first job, I was easily imprinted: Everything I learned at work was interpreted as the universal standard for the way things are done. With no basis for comparison, Apple quickly set my professional defaults for culture, work ethic and management.
The journey toward authentic and effective leadership is a personal one. Although we typically talk about it as an issue of career development, authentic leadership comes through a process of self-discovery. Until we grow comfortable in our own skin, our insecurities hold us back. For me, the struggle to live by my own values started in high school and continued through college and my early career at Apple. Only after I had started my own company — and made some pretty terrible mistakes — did I start to lead with authentic confidence.
The struggle to fit in, rooted in insecurity, is universally familiar. While my upbringing was generally wonderful, it wasn't straightforward. I'm gay, so those otherwise simple decisions like going to prom or how to hang with the guys often presented difficult value choices between telling a lie or being myself. Sadly, as a teenager, you're already programmed to go for the lie.