Being you - more effective, more fun and a lot easier
The second headline on my website talks about helping you become a successful, authentic leader. Why do I think this is so important?
Many employers encourage us to “bring your whole self to work”, although it is not always as easy as it may seem. For many of us we feel we need to fit in to do well. We have seen how others have advanced and think we need to copy them in order to succeed. This is particularly acute at the start of your career but not necessarily something that goes away. It can take time, effort and experience to have confidence that you are good enough as you are.
There are 2 main reasons why I believe that being authentic is essential to your success.
1. People will see through you if you are not. We connect to people as individuals and we are much more likely to help people that we like. If you are putting on a façade then it can be difficult for people to build a proper connection to you and there is often a lack of trust. People see through façades and are less likely to respect someone that they see as inauthentic.
2. It is much easier to be the real you than trying to be someone else. It takes a lot of effort if you are constantly trying to pretend to be something that you are not. A piece of advice I was given going into an interview at the very start of my career, was that your career is a very long time to try and be something that you are not. It is much easier to make decisions consistently when you are being authentic and aligned to your values. People are more likely to understand you, even when difficult decisions have to be made, if you are consistent and authentic. If there is dissonance between your true self and the persona you are presenting this can generate negative energy and be incredibly draining and ultimately unhealthy.
When we are climbing our career ladder, particularly in early days or when taking on more senior roles, it can be tempting to have a very separate professional persona. You want to make a good impression and for people to take you seriously. However, people will warm to you as an individual if they feel they know you properly. It doesn’t mean you have to be the same as everyone else, showing you care about things makes you a more interesting person to engage with.
I am not suggesting that this gives you permission to say whatever pops into your head without consideration for the impact on others but it does mean you shouldn’t feel you have to stifle yourself to get ahead. Moving to a different country and into a new culture can take time to adjust but it is possible to be culturally aware and sensitive, whilst still bringing the essence of you out for people to connect to.
Two particular moments stand out in my memory that I try to hold on to and remind myself to relax and show more of ‘me’ at work.
I have moved roles and country several times throughout my career and whilst I always strive to be successful, it is the comments in leaving cards about personal connection that are always far more valuable than acknowledgements of my competence. I particularly treasure my leaving card from the team in Doha when several people told me that they would miss my laugh in the office. This warms my heart and makes me smile every time I read it.
Another occasion was during a mid-career assessment centre. We had a dinner with the assessors and participants as part of the programme. I passed the assessment centre, which was a combination of exercises as well as a formal interview. What I remember most clearly though is the assessor who gave me the feedback at the end telling me that I had done well and come across professionally throughout the centre. However, he encouraged me to relax and bring more of myself through as “I’d rather work with the Joanna I met at the dinner than the one from the interview”.
Well into my second decade of working and it is still something I try to balance as I move into new roles and want to make a positive impression. I hope that I am getting better at it!
For leaders, as with most things, it is important for you to demonstrate this yourself. I have no doubt that you will find you have a more engaged and motivated team who want to work for and with you and who are more willing to bring more of themselves to work.