One Saturday morning many years I go, I dropped by the office to pick up a few things I needed. While there I ran into a guy who worked as the company lawyer. My colleague was clearly not expecting to see anyone and become very concerned about having been ‘caught’ wearing the clothes that he was. While his Hip Hop style outfit complete with baggy pants and backward turned cap wasn’t necessarily what I would have expected, the depth of his concern baffled me far more than his appearance.
Sworn to secrecy I never did tell anyone what I witnessed that day, as mundane as it was. That experience has stayed with me however as a sad example of the corporate facade so many people choose to hide behind. Too many of us adopt a corporate image and persona as we put on our suits for work each day; that is an artificial or deceptive front aimed at creating an image and influencing a particular reputation. Outdated ideas of what it means to be professional and successful in the business world underpin why so many people choose to adopt a work facade.
While my lawyer friend was perhaps dressed outside of the ‘norm’ there was nothing offensive about what he chose to wear that day. And yet for him being seen like that posed a very real risk to his professional credibility. The disappointing truth is he’s far from alone; I meet people all the time who hold similar concerns about aspects of their personal life, character or choices being revealed to those they work with. Especially common are leaders who feel compelled to adopt a particular façade in order to portray confidence and command respect.
How can we possibly leverage our full potential however, if we are too afraid to be who we really are and express ourselves truthfully?
How can we possibly expect to lead other people to reach their potential if we fail to build honest and real relationships with them?
Authentic human connection is essential to any leaders ability to influence the way others think, feel and behave. Being real is essential to creating the depth of connections needed to fully leverage a group’s potential and optimise performance.
To elicit best efforts, to push people beyond their self-perceived limits, to motivate them to move forward or to step up and have a go at things outside their experience, a leader must earn trust and respect. As both individuals and leaders the trust and respect we earn is unquestionably influenced by our willingness to let people get to know us. That is what we are capable of and how we go about things. Breaking down the facades we hide behind is an important first step to allowing that to happen.
Ask most people to describe the best leader they’ve worked with and they’re likely to share stories of very real human beings. That is, leaders who have not only inspired a hopeful vision for the future but have also shared the struggles and challenges along the way. Most people respect and appreciate honesty when it is delivered with courage, respect and sensitivity.
Contemplate for yourself how much more likely you are to respect someone who you trust to be upfront and real with you.
Reflect on the people you work with – your colleagues, staff, customers, boss, and service providers. How many people among those you regularly interact with do you feel you really know? If you are a people manager ask yourself how well you know each person on your team. Do you understand their potential and how it can be leveraged? How well do people know you? Most importantly how connected do you feel to the people you work with and how likely are they to feel connected to you?
While how much we share about our personal lives at work is an individual choice, our willingness to be connected, open and authentic is essential to our individual and collective success. Our ability to work collaboratively and achieve the best possible outcomes for our team and ourselves depends on it.