I’m in the business of evaluating and matching people’s skills and talents with growing companies. The skills used to recruit people blend science and art. It requires a keen understanding of human behavior and a quality of discernment. I immediately spot the genuine, down to earth, tells-it-like-it-is professionals from the “posers” or masqueraders the moment they walk into a meeting. One of the first things I communicate to candidates is “be you.” I find that people are more effective when they are themselves. When we approach situations as “real,” drawing on all our talents and experiences, this applies to all levels of the hierarchy, whether you are a leader, an employee, or you just landed your first job, being genuine is not an act. It comes from inside us.
It’s the time of year when we are going to costume parties, parades, or accompanying our kids trick-or-treating. But a human-centric organization revolves around real people, not super-heroes. Every component of an organization should be humanized, acknowledging that employees, customers, and agents are real people with daily life struggles. So when we put on corporate masks we are in danger of taking away the essential requirement for success — trust. The masks of the “corporate superhero” or the “perfect employee” are often born out of unrealistic expectations, as we try to act the role without the credibility to pull it off. We live in a “doing world” and are often encouraged to “get into action” regardless of our personal preferences and intellectual property. Often, admitting mistakes is seen as bad, and we do anything to avoid being seen as imperfect. We find it difficult to be ourselves. After all, there can be consequences.
The age of heroic leadership may be coming to an end. The leader who leads from the front, knows all the answers, doesn’t listen to dissent from the team, and is driven by a strong ego, is being challenged left and right. Yesterday’s leaders, such as Sam Walton, Jack Welsh, and Steve Jobs (although all great influential game changers who started and ran innovative empires), have given way to the era of community communicators. These new leaders from Facebook, to Twitter and Pinterest, empower the individuals.
According to Scott McCallum, president of shopper marketing, N.A. at Geometry Global, “The ‘hero’ no longer knows all the answers because the answers are coming at us from a multitude of directions, and all the answers are distilled down to a personal level.” McCallum goes on to say, “Business is complicated, and as a leader, you can’t have all the information at one time. You no longer can make a decision just upon the information that’s in front of you. It’s like watching the news. Each channel has the same story, but they are reporting it slightly different. Speaking candidly with your team and finding out who’s got the pieces and then artfully pulling together all the information is a big part of the leader’s job.”
By learning to be ourselves in business, we can learn from each other and better talk to our clients and consumers. By being malleable and open, and by listening and being spirited, we become more flexible and more tolerant of others’ styles. Authenticity enables us to access all of our skills and capabilities and to call on a wide range of experiences. The more genuinely we behave, the more we tap into who we are, and the more convincing, passionate, and assertive we become. Jon Miller, vice president of marketing and co-founder for Marketo, states, “There is a trend towards humanness in business. We need to be more conversational; we need to engage in dialogues and not diatribes; being human is more listening and responding to what you’re hearing.”
What are the key ingredients to being true, being ourselves, and taking off the masks?
Know thy self
At the core of being authentic is having a deep understanding of our own drive or objective and being passionate about it. This sense of purpose needs to be uniquely our own and provide the motivation for our actions. We need to understand how our personality traits, skills, and experiences play into our roles at work. Knowing what you are doing and how you are behaving increases your choices. Noticing your own behavior helps with self-awareness. Slowing down and keeping your eyes and ears open is very valuable as well.
Integrity and strong values are generally regarded as essential traits of good leaders and corporate citizens. Being able to manage yourself establishes that you are worthy of respect and that your values remain consistent once they are translated into actions. You also need to act as a role model for employees and be viewed as trustworthy. Being congruent is essential at all levels of the organization.
Bravery and passion
Bravery, passion, and authenticity are intrinsically interconnected, so you need to be daring and honest. Speak out to fix wrongs, admit to personal weaknesses, and own up to mistakes. Doing things with obvious and genuine passion and enthusiasm makes an enormous difference. People respond to passion. It encourages, stimulates, and creates an environment where people are able to motivate themselves. We also need to face challenges and unfamiliar situations head on and have the ability to make tough decisions. Authentic leaders are prepared to ask difficult questions, really listen to the answers, and act accordingly. This means being able to go far outside their comfort zone.
It is important to recognize that the best teams include a balance of people with varying styles and skill sets. Today’s leaders want to build lasting and meaningful relationships and empower employees to make a difference, rather than simply delegating tasks to them. They are often in the trenches with their people, and they want to be open and let them know they are approachable at any time. Many corporate leaders today want to show empathy and compassion. Their actions tend to build trust and commitment on both sides.
To err is human
This is a very positive sign of both authenticity and self-confidence. Being prepared to acknowledge weaknesses and personal mistakes is important. It shows that you appreciate mistakes can happen. After all, we all make them, and by acknowledging them we are able to learn from the situation and develop new or additional choices to help us in the future. In conclusion, the challenge to being authentic begins with accepting that being human is good for business. Only through self-awareness, combined with passion and integrity, can you truly be aligned with authenticity. When people behave authentically, more often than not, they are able to achieve remarkable things in business and personally. They are focused, committed, and at times, controversial, but often inspirational. So I challenge you to ask yourself a question. How is being human good for your business?