Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Be Yourself!

Authenticity in the workplace - what does this mean, exactly? Good question! Allow me to answer this with an example of what it doesn't mean: I once worked for a boss who told me she needed me to be someone else in the workplace.  She said, "I know you are a happy person, and you interact well at all levels. But at this company, you need to be serious. Don't smile so much. Don't use humour. Don't laugh. Don't be optimistic - people will think what we do is easy." She went on to tell me that our department was serious. That we wanted to be taken seriously, almost to the point of being feared. Seriously? Seriously.

Needless to say, Cruella de Ville and I didn't work together very well, nor for all that much longer. Don't get me wrong - she was very knowledgeable and I learned good technical and business skills from her, but the chasm between my being my best self in the workplace and who she expected me to be, was far too great.  Now, don't get me wrong that if an employee needs to "dial it down" a bit in a certain attribute or behaviour, it's appropriate to give them that feedback and expect some positive, reasonable changes.  This was not the case.  "You are 'x'. I want 'y'. Be 'y'." was just not going to work.  Y not? X-actly. 

Moving on from that experience, I have stuck to only working for people who embrace authenticity in the workplace. I constantly encourage our employees to be themselves and their managers to support this.  Being one's self in the workplace has boundaries, of course. You need to be respectful and appropriate, and colour within the lines of corporate values, culture, and practices.  My workplace is not a frat house, by any means, but it's not a stuffy, serious institution either. Smiling is okay. Laughing (where appropriate, which is fairly often because humour is part of our culture) is good and it doesn't mean you're not working hard or your job is 'too easy'. Being comfortable with who you are helps others to be comfortable as well, and this frees us all to focus on our customers and growing our businesses. Isn't that where you'd rather your employees be focusing? Thought so.  

It's far more difficult to not be authentic in the workplace.  I think Gandhi says it best: "To believe in something and not live it is dishonest".

So...be yourself!    

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