How many of us go to work every single day of the week and portray a slightly skewed version of ourselves, a modified “professional persona”?
I’ve worked with people for years who did this very well and very deliberately. One lady shocked the living hell out of me, she was so quiet, meek and mild, a real shrinking violet. A lovely lady, polite, friendly but came across as shy and timid and would never raise her head above the parapet to speak out or volunteer for anything. That was until she joined the 40 strong team on an away day and my-oh-my, what a difference – this wallflower suddenly transformed into a hard nosed, competetive banshee, who drank like a demon and became the life and soul of the party! How is that even possible?
Can you imagine the effort it takes to pretend to be something you’re not, five days a week, in the face of every colleague or customer you have to deal with? Can you imagine how emotionally draining that must be? Moreover, why would someone choose to be so very different from their real selves? Don’t get me wrong, we all ‘tone down’ our behaviour in order to ‘fit in’ a little better at work sometimes, particularly in a new job or when dealing with new people but surely to represent such a false image of ourselves is living a lie and why would we want to do that?
Well, I think mostly it’s a fear of disapproval. We all want to be accepted, socially, professionally and personally and we tweak our natural behaviours at times in order to make us more accepted by our peer group, elders and betters. We have a deep seated fear that if we act like our real selves we may not be taken seriously. We think as professionals that we’ll be found out and someone’s going to discover we’re just winging it. Incidentally, we’re all winging it to one degree or another!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years which has been an almighty wake-up call for me, is that to be ourselves, to be authentic, is what makes us, well us. It’s what makes us a joy to be around, makes us unique. It’s what makes people want to join with us and work towards a common goal. That little spark of madness (I like to think of it as eccentricity) is what will bring us success, promotion, increased compensation, respect, recognition – all the things we crave for professionally and personally. Authenticity is something that people look towards in order to develop trust and something that all great leaders have in spades. The only caveat to that is that we have to be demonstrating that spark to a person or organisation who sees and believes in the value of it. If our values align with the organisation we work for, if our spark ignites something in those we love, then the world is our oyster and the rewards we will reap are exponential.
Robin Williams once said, “You’re only given one little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it” and I for one think he was bang on the money there. Whatever it is you’re passionate and enthusiastic about, don’t be apologetic for it. There are those who will not warm to your spark of madness, but there will also be those who will be inspired and motivated by it and when that happens it truly is a magical thing.