You Can’t Hide From You
It was a day I’ll never forget. During my morning “zen time” I had been reading Nathaniel Brandon”s, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field – I think it was around 2003 (it was definitely before my kiddo was born, as there hasn’t been much “zen” since) – I was living in Seattle at the time. Having just finished a chapter about the “Practice of Personal Integrity” I hopped on the bus to get to the office. When the bus came to a stop, a homeless man came up to me and asked me for change. I was late, focused on all the things I had to get done, and a bit agitated by the intrusion. I pasted a sheepish grin on my face and said, “Sorry, I don’t have any money!”, as I scampered across the street before the light changed. As my foot touched the curb, something happened that is embossed in my memory forever. I put my hand in my pocket and felt a little more than a dollar’s worth of change, clinking like little soothsayers beneath my fingers. Oh my… The realization washed over me like a cold fog. I lied to a homeless person. Does it get any worse than that?!
I’m not proud of this story. It’s not representative of the person I know I am – the person I want to be – the person I hope to show the world. But it happened. I’m human. We humans blow it sometimes. But even in the re-telling of this story, the fact that my actions that day were so incongruent with my perception of myself, causes my stomach to clench.
I was talking to a dear friend of mine who used to be a senior leader for one of the world’s largest retailers. This company has enjoyed a great reputation for being people-focused, for caring about their employees, many books have been written about their culture, and yet I knew that during my friend’s tenure at the company she had been miserable. When I asked her about it – why the discrepancy between what I’ve read about the organization and her experience – she said, “That’s true at the store-level. At corporate, it’s a different story. Behind the scenes the same rules don’t apply.”
I could share countless other stories that I’ve heard from friends and participants (or participants who have become friends), about values-driven organizations that have bullies at the helm. About bosses who tout the virtues of transparency only to blind-side their teams. About departments that invest in emotional intelligence training for their employees but show little or no empathy during layoffs. About people-centered companies that treat their vendors like second-class citizens. The list goes on.
It’s no wonder that cynicism seems to be at an all-time high, loyalty at an all-time low, and that “50% of American workers are not engaged” (according to Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace”). With so much incongruency, we don’t know what to expect, to believe, or to trust.
I don’t write this from a place of judgement (I’m the person who lied to the homeless guy, remember?), because we’ve all been there. And I catch myself going there again from time-to-time, usually when I’m emotionally hijacked or not present, and the awareness leaves me feeling terribly…human. There’s not a perfect person on this planet and certainly not a perfect organization. But the price we pay for incongruencies is often bigger than we realize. It’s easy to see that when others sense incongruency that they won’t trust us – won’t want to do business with us. But what if others don’t know?… What if, like in my example, the only one who knows is you?
In OnStage Leadership, one of the things we work on is showing up “powerfully” . When I talk about “power”, I refer to one’s intrinsic ability to influence – it does not come from position or title. It is rooted in self-efficacy, self-belief, and your ability to navigate the impact you have on others. When you take action that is incongruent with who you are and what you believe, you feel it. Even if no one else knows, you cannot hide from yourself. Even if you have a host of reasons to excuse your behavior, reasons do not alter facts. Inside you know the truth. When you’re in breech of your own integrity, you start to mask yourself off and hide. You dissipate your power and lose the ability to truly connect and therefore influence.
In this world there are things that you can control and things that you cannot. We can control our own incongruencies. Are you telling yourself the truth? Are you supporting policies that are incongruent with your organization’s values? Are you taking responsibility for your actions and reactions? Are you practicing what you preach? Are you or aren’t you congruent?
You know it when you are and you know it when you’re not.
And if you find that you slip-up – which you will – just clean it up. Own it. Own it with others if you need to, and own it within. Treat yourself with compassion, recognize that you’re human and you’re not going to be perfect. Because humans aren’t perfect. But do better next time.
Today I encourage you to pay attention to how congruently you are showing up in the world. Congruency is a big step toward being your most authentic and powerful self.
Because you know. And you can’t hide from you.
©OnStage Leadership, 2014 (originally posted in July, 2013)
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Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. Click here to read what people are saying!