Look famous. Be legendary. Appear complex. Act easy. Radiate presence. Travel light. Seem a dream. Prove real.
The New Year is right around the corner, and some of you must have started thinking of New Year’s resolutions, from losing weight to making more money to being happy.
The pursuit of happiness is the greatest goal one can strive for, but it is an elusive state of mind that keeps changing with time, place, and circumstance. Trying to achieve happiness by being someone other than your authentic self is not only short-lived but also painful. Perhaps, one of your goals for the coming year ought to be your true self.
Bill Bryson in his famous book A Short History of Nearly Everything articulates how trillions of drifting atoms had to come together in an intricate and intriguing manner to create a human being. The combination is so specialized and particular that it will happen only once.
This process was billions of years in the making, and all elements of the cosmos—pressure, temperature, chemical composition, and time—have to be in perfect sync to create a human. In this sense, every person is unique and distinct in many ways. Despite this uniqueness, some people try to hide their true self and go about life being someone else, thus missing out on the magic of creation and creativity.
When I was growing up, the monks in my school drilled into us that each soul is potentially divine. Without getting into philosophy, I’ll just say that we learned that every human is uniquely gifted and we have infinite energy to accomplish anything we want in life.
We spend more than a third of our life working in different organizations, with different people, with different values and cultures. Being authentic and injecting your true self into your leadership style will help you gain a bigger following—and I bet you will be happier by being yourself.
Leading companies are going to great lengths to make diversity and inclusion (D&I) a key part of their culture, but inclusion is the secret sauce that binds D&I together. Creating an inclusive culture that makes room for and engages people with different leadership styles is key to creating an innovative company.
A recent study shows that approximately 30 percent of ethnic millennials consider changing their ethnic names to something Western sounding to blend in with their colleagues. Changing your name does not change your true self, and I encourage you to maintain your personal touch and a level of authenticity that makes you, you.
Certain behaviors, attitudes, and actions are not acceptable in a working environment. For example, openly and vigorously expressing views on sensitive subjects such as politics or religion at work is not acceptable.
There are at least three ways to express your uniqueness. While working in organizations, you are always on stage, and people are observing, drawing conclusions and building an image of you. The question becomes how you will manage to be your true self and remain authentic while balancing all the other nuances.
This is the visible part of you, and how you show up to work or a meeting says a lot about your unique tastes and self-expression. Looks can be deceptive and people should not judge a book by its cover, but they still do.
If your work environment requires a formal dress code and your preference is to be informal, then wear funny socks with your suit to show a bit of your true self. If, like me, you like wearing Buddhist beads on your wrist on Fridays, go ahead and do it—it is not a deal breaker.
I recently had a meeting with a senior HR leader from a large industrial company. She was dressed informally and sported a tattoo on her wrist, but that did not make her any less professional. In fact, I enjoyed talking to her and she came across as authentic. It also reflected the inclusive culture of the company.
Irrespective of your desire to be your true self, being smart about the situation is important. Don’t show up to work in a brand new sports car if you plan to announce cost-cutting initiatives or disrespect your customers by not being professionally dressed for the occasion.
You project your unique thoughts by how you speak and how you verbally articulate your ideas in the workplace. If your talking style is direct and straightforward, you can expect different expressions and perceptions from your audience compared with someone who speaks soft and slowly.
During a leadership program, I made a couple of strong statements in the team discussion to kick-start the conversation. The feedback after the session was that I had been both provocative and unifying. Words when spoken (or not spoken) have a powerful way of projecting your self-image. Strong leaders who exhibit executive maturity know how to modulate their tones and words to get the desired effect.
If you are the kind of person who likes to cut jokes all the time, don’t stop—but do it in moderation.
There is always pressure to conform to certain norms, but in today’s world, there is more flexibility in the workplace to express your views professionally.
Actions speak louder than words. You have almost certainly heard the adage that only 7 percent of face-to-face communication is attributed to the words spoken; the rest is about body language and how you say those words.
Further, some people lead from the front and some from the top, but others stand on the sidelines until they are called. Depending on your actions, you can be perceived as a go-getter, power player, team player, or bystander.
If you are the kind of person who likes to take the lead, be proactive and make your intentions known to others. Being consistent in your actions is as important as the action itself. As the saying goes, “Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.”
People higher up in an organization have earned the power to be truer to their true selves. They also have earned the right to exhibit their idiosyncrasies. However, there are professional boundaries one has to manage. Being too open, transparent, or informal in a workplace setting is not helpful for your personal growth or for your career progression.
Bringing it all Together
Building an inclusive culture where different kinds of leadership styles are encouraged helps an organization build an innovative and thriving enterprise. When an individual becomes part of an organization or team where the personal and organization values and culture are aligned, it will be a win-win combination for both. Becoming a strong leader is also about being authentic and being true to one’s true self.
The Bottom Line
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson