Are you yourself when you are at work? That’s the question People Academy have been asking Leaders in BMW UK.
People are generally social chameleons, adapting to different people in different situations; changing their behaviour and discourse to fit social conventions. In the workplace, our behaviour is also influenced by cultural norms that prevail – the espoused values of the organisation, codes of conduct, hierarchical power structures as well as unwritten conventions that influence communications in emails, over phones and in meetings. Where the pressure to conform is very strong, the organisation produces corporate clones.
"To find yourself, first think for yourself."
Recent research has shown that the qualities people value in their leaders are changing. People want to be managed by individuals who ‘bring their real selves to work’ and are led by their values and the courage of their convictions.
What does ‘being authentic’ mean? In principle, it’s about having the freedom to embody your values and personality without the shackles of corporate convention. What that means to each of us will inevitably be different, because each of us is unique. It sounds quite liberating doesn’t it? But is it really THAT simple?
Of course not! Firstly, there are obvious and sensible constraints, - we have to behave within the rules set down by law. So, if your personal views compromise the equality of any individual who works work with you – tough, that sort of authenticity is simply not acceptable! Leadership carries a responsibility for decision-making and there may be times when your authenticity is tested. For example, when the future career of others is being determined, or when your personal views are at odds with decisions made by higher authorities. The trick is to know how far you are able to flex without a wholesale attack on the values that you stand for.
“This above all: to thine own self be true."
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Is being authentic simply a case of ‘this is me, take me or leave me’? To answer that question, you first have to ask yourself ‘what is my purpose as a leader’? If you take the view that your purpose is to add value to the those you lead, then being ‘you’ all the time may hamper your ability to engage with some, particularly if their personality is dramatically different to yours. Interpersonal agility: the capacity to consciously make small, but significant adjustments in behaviour, will improve your ability to connect with a broad range of people. The good news is that this can be achieved without posing a risk to your values or your ability to be the genuine you.
Being authentic starts with knowing yourself, your behavioural preferences, your values and motivations. You have to know something about what kind of person you want to be, how others see you and what constrains you. As a leader, it would be naive to think that it’s easy or straightforward – life isn’t that simple.
We are privileged to have worked with BMW’s leaders to help them craft their own definition of authenticity. Each person has come up with his or her own inimitable version; a fascinating insight into the diversity of people at work.
One leader’s philosophy, in particular, really struck a chord. You don’t have to be an animal lover to understand its meaning…