When I first started working at the CIPD I was asked if I would continue to be authentic, as if I had a ready made fake alter-ego waiting in a cupboard for just such an occasion. Lots of the questions, interestingly centred around appearance - Would I shave? Would I still wear Converse? Did I actually own a suit?
Whilst I found this focus on external indicators and symbols of identity a little disconcerting I could understand the questions. Essentially people were attempting to quantify to what extent I would be making different choices due to the fact I was joining an organisation rather than working for myself. Would I still be me? Would I be the authentic genuine article. We hear that word a lot recently, but it is a far from simple concept.
It's a year on and I'm sitting here with a slightly more tidy beard and sometimes I wear a suit - but I still respond to my name being called out, still enjoy hot dogs and family and friends haven't yet contacted the government to report I've been replaced by an evil doppelganger.
Ali Germain came up with a lovely way of describing the problem that she calls ‘the Mystery of the Revolving Door’. I have since hijacked the idea and I talk about The Reverse Superman so much that people don’t realise it was borrowed (not stolen, I have gracious permission). It goes something like this…
You know that scene in the original Superman movie where Clark Kent enters the revolving door in his crumpled suit and spins around at speed before popping out as Superman on the other side? The opposite happens in organisations every day, and that is the challenge to address. People who if you met them socially would be smart, capable, helpful; they simply default to becoming corporate drones in the office. The bright spark you hired last year? Neither bright nor sparky in your last project meeting. That’s a problem.
We are surrounded by organisations that induce a default setting where people are less than they can be. That is a loss for both organisations and individuals.
Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones talked about being able to exhibit 'tangential weakness', that is allowing people to see vulnerability in you as a leader by letting people know you make mistakes, but being clear about your competency in your core role. Whilst I feel that is a sensible strategy I'm not sure that it goes far enough towards the kind of honesty that I associate with 'being authentic'. For me it's important that people around me know I'm fallible on the big things too, because I expect them to trust me not in spite of that - but because of that. I'm comfortable with them thinking 'he gets it right 8 times out of 10' rather than being paranoid they might not think I'm right the whole time. I fail at my core job sometimes too - and that's ok and to be expected.
Recently I had the opportunity to advertise a role working for me so I posted an advert on Linkedin and it got an amazingly positive response. It got that because I know myself well enough to be aware the applicants should know that I drift away from scribbles on whiteboards expecting other people to translate them into work and also that I'm grumpy if I haven't eaten.
There isn't a concrete reason that you can't be just a bit more you in the workplace. Almost everyone has a personality outside of work and you might be surprised how well people will react if you allow it to sneak into the workplace occasionally. I've written some more on the complexity of the call to 'be authentic' here, but if you are interested in exploring it more we are running a workshop in conjuction with The School of Life (who are very cool people) on the subject in the near future. Get yourself booked on here and be a bit more you...
It's also worth following a debate on authenticity that is developing here between Adam Grant and Brene Brown
The picture of Superman above is courtesy of Simon Heath
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