Years ago I worked at a company fraught with politics. I was hired to manage a program that, before I joined, had become part of a power-play between the executive I reported to and her rival (the classic CLO vs CTO showdown). It was essentially a struggle between the team that produced and managed content and the team that developed and administered our delivery technology, including a proprietary LMS. I learned that they hoped that my advanced degree would lend credibility to the content development team and often found myself in counter productive and contentious meetings. After those meetings my boss would ask me why I didn’t speak up more.
The problem was, most of the time, I didn’t agree with either her or her rival. Their power-grabs were a distraction from our actual goal of developing solutions that individuals and companies would buy, find valuable, and recommend to others. I was plagued with the idea that I wasn’t being myself – I was just trying to parrot my executive’s views, rehashing with her rival their old, tired arguments.
Since working there I’ve faced similar situations again but have found that being true to a core set of principles allows me to be authentic while at the same time embracing and reacting to each unique context. I’ve listed and expanded on some below.
Principle #1 – Don’t be a jerk
It’s easy to be a jerk and let external influences dictate how we feel and react. However, in order to authentic I like to check myself with these statements:
- Be a contributor not a cynic. Cynicism is all around. Twitter trolls are cynics. It’s easy to sit and fume at a perceived offense. Find the positive in others and build on it.
- Be curious and create instead of armchairing skepticism. Skepticism is easy and lazy. Creating is a calling.
- Achieve – don’t doubt.
Even when you’re convinced you’re right, you may not be. The statement “The truth doesn’t care about your feelings” is overused. Commentators and popular educators are fond of that quote but it’s thrown around so much now it has no meaning. In an effort to be open and honest all the time, we’ve lost the precious art of civility and propriety. Yes your cube mate smells like stale coffee and cigarettes in the morning but do you really need to complain about it? Yes your friend may need to lose 20 lbs., but is it so important that you remind him of that every time you see him eat anything that’s not a vegetable? No, it’s not.
Principle #2 – Listen more than you speak
Never be the guy in the room that talks more than he listens. Sure, sometimes your task is to present ideas, review topics, or do most of the talking. But when working and collaborating with others, it’s important to listen and synthesize more than you hold forth and inform.
Going back to the example I mentioned already – my boss expected me to speak more than anyone else. Her view of influence was that the person filling the room with the most words held all of the power. But all that resulted from that strategy were meetings from which nobody had actionable insights.
Principle #3 – You can only change yourself
There’s a famous Buddhist monk who’s fond of reminding people that they can’t change others – they can only change themselves.
People too often have thoughts like these:
- I wish my boss was smarter.
- If my coworkers didn’t schmooze the boss so much she’d recognize how much I deserve a promotion.
- If my wife was kinder to me I’d help out more with the kids.
- If that other driver wasn’t so rude I’d be kinder to my coworkers.
Instead, if we’re trying to be authentic, we’d have thoughts like these:
- I’m glad my boss hires smart people.
- I’m relieved that I don’t have to be the person on the team that strokes our boss’s ego.
- Life’s tough for everyone. How can I better serve my wife and kids?
- I’m grateful for quick reflexes that kept me from running into that other car.
Principle #4 – Own your mistakes
This one is easy. Owning your mistakes not only increases your credibility, but you also get to own your successes. I’ve too often worked with people who refuse to admit mistakes and either blame others, or don’t acknowledge mistakes at all. They doggedly stick to ideas that have been debunked.
Owning your mistakes gives purpose and direction to your life. It gives you control, like the last verse in the poem Invictus by Henley:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
When you own your mistakes you can also call out exactly what you learned and identify what you would do differently the next time. You gain power from admitting when you’ve failed.
You might find these additional articles about authenticity interesting:
- What Does Authenticity Really Mean?: https://www.fastcompany.com/3053566/what-does-authenticity-really-mean
- 9 Powerful Ways Great Leaders Show Real Authenticity: https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/9-ways-amazing-leaders-demonstrate-real-authenticity-every-day.html
- 7 Qualities of Truly Authentic People: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-doesnt-kill-us/201608/7-qualities-truly-authentic-people