Surprised By Real?
“You were so real! You were exactly the way you sounded on the phone!” she exclaimed, seeming shocked by her discovery. “Well…I guess that’s good, right? I mean, I do teach authentic leadership, it would kind of be a problem if I wasn’t authentic, don’t you think?”
We both stood there a bit dazed – she in happy disbelief, and me… well surprised, I guess… What does that say about our business environment when people are shocked by meeting someone who is real?
From what I’ve seen, people are tired of playing the game. All the posturing, and jockeying for attention, and false pleasantries, and snarky comments, and decisions made by spreadsheets that don’t consider the human toll, have left people leery. They don’t know who or what to trust so they don’t – trust, that is. Not their boss, not their company, not their colleagues, or suppliers, and least of all themselves. Like an actor getting into costume, they put on their protective mask, their emotional armor, and cloak of perfection and head into the office each day with their hearts anesthetized, ready to survive.
The problem is, everything that can make our companies great is hidden behind those masks and that armor and those cloaks. Creativity, engagement, passion, commitment, excitement, loyalty, joy – are all activities of the heart. They come from caring and connection and are accessed through vulnerability.
Yikes. Vulnerability at work?! What?! Am I nuts?!
Probably. But that’s what’s real (not me being nuts – the vulnerability part).
If we want a culture filled with creative, engaged, passionate, committed, excited, and joyful people, we have to make it safe for them to take down the mask, take off the armor, and remove the cloak. If we want to have relationships that make our businesses work, then we have to stop treating them transactionally. Because nobody gives their best for a simple exchange of value – not employees, not suppliers, not our clients, and not you – we give and commit our best because we care. It’s a heart thing.
Every human hungers to be seen. To connect. But we’re all running around the corporate world disguised and protected. Most of our weirdnesses and ineffective behaviors are simply because our disguises don’t fit. We don’t make eye contact when we present not because we’re bad presenters, but because we don’t feel safe. We brag, or put other people down, or steamroll over others not because we’re superior but because we’re trying to prove to ourselves and the world that we’re okay. We shut down in meetings not because we aren’t smart or have something to contribute, but because we’re overly critical of ourselves and afraid of saying the wrong thing. All of it stems from trying to protect ourselves, trying to prove ourselves, or trying to be something we’re not. Our power – our best self – our ability to powerfully connect with others – lies behind the mask.
So how do we make it safe for people to bring what’s real to work? To unleash their best because they want to? I won’t lie to you, it’s not going to be easy, (but nobody promised that leadership would be easy). If we’re the leaders, we have to go first. We have to muster the courage to take our down our masks and truly connect to make it safe for everyone else around us to do the same.
There seem to be a million articles out there about how to make your people more creative, how to engage employees, unleash their passion – we know intellectually what we want our cultures to look like and how we want them to feel, but it’s just an intellectual and costly exercise unless we’re willing to do the hardest thing of all. Unless we’re willing to get real.
I dream of the day when that won’t come as such a surprise.
©OnStage Leadership, 2013; Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. If you found this helpful, interesting, thought-provoking, or inspiring please “recommend”, “Like” and share. It is only through your generosity that we can reach those who may find it valuable too.