Part I: An unexpected lesson in professional integrity
My daughter went to meet with a professional mentor after finishing law school. This woman had founded the largest legal recruitment firm in Australia so I was hoping that she would come home with a nugget or two of golden job advice (I mean I was willing to dish it out to her but she wouldn’t have accepted it from me). She comes home beaming and I was excited to see the job applications flying out the door.
“I’m going to be the girl in the pink coat” she announced. “That’s who I am and so that’s what’s going to get me hired. BE-THE-GIRL-IN-THE-PINK-COAT. It’s my new mantra”. Oh dear I thought. First, pink is not the colour a women in a man’s world should be aspiring to. Secondly, who are you going to be in summer?!
“Perhaps you could be the girl in the pink coat at home and then be the punctual girl in the demure black suit with an excellent academic transcript and wide ranging extra curricula at work?” I suggested.
There was no trying to change her, she is her mother’s daughter. “But I AM the girl in the pink coat. Look at me, look at this coat, look at everyone else miserable in their greyscale world sitting soggy-looking on the tram. And I am always smiling in this colourful coat, thinking about ways I can change the world. Stop trying to make me black and white, no one is ever going to hire me unless I am my authentic self.”
There it was, the word of the day. Authenticity.
Part II: Authenticity: Misunderstood, mystifying and too often missed in the workplace
Authenticity in the workplace will be the reason you succeed or fail. So this would be a good time to learn a little more about it.
Authenticity: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character; not false or imitation; worthy of acceptance or belief.
It may seem a little wishy-washy on the surface, but trust me, understanding this concept will give you a competitive edge. The moral of the story is – if you are your authentic self; you have no competition.
And the best part it, you can increase your authenticity through practise. Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. You may recognise her from the popular TED talk “The power of vulnerability”. She states that:
“Authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It’s a practice – a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make everyday. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our real selves be seen.”
Part III: Enough philosophising, how can I use all this to become a better manager and employee?
Like Dr Brown says, being a real, transparent, trustworthy manager is a choice. You choose whether it is a battle in the morning to smile to your team and give them a “pep talk” or are you are genuinely interested and engaged in the team, each member, and your shared outcomes.
On a personal level, to me, an authentic workplace is one where people genuinely care about achieving their goals. They want to feel useful, to share their skills, to learn and to feel satisfied that they have contributed to a collaborative outcome. They are not just dragging themselves out of bed for the going rate, because they are somewhere between living to work and working to live, they care.
That’s where the authenticity of the manager matters. You are the reason they care.
An authentic manager cares about his or her staff and their shared outcome as much or even more than their own. It is a symbiotic relationship.
Now it is important to distinguish authenticity from originality. Stop trying to be original. You are inherently original, so find out who that person is and be yourself. You will then be centred, focused, consistent, understandable, approachable, all products of authenticity (and of good management!).
And, whatever you do, don’t trade in your authenticity for approval.
This leads me to the significance of integrity. Integrity is a word that conjures up images of a worker who turns down a bag of cash for the greater good, or the committed husband who rejects a young seductress, or the commander who goes back for his soldier (usually Matt Damon). But these are always extreme binary distinctions between good and evil, life or death, and are always hyper-masculine connotations.
So what does day-to-day integrity mean in the everyday world? In the workplace? To me, it means consistency. It means transparency. It means a person who doesn’t claim to know more than they do, who asks questions, who works hard, who chooses the long term rewards over the shorter ones. Their agendas are on the table. They can be the career-ist or the casual. There are no surprises with the integrity-holder; they are clear from the outset.
These are the kind of people you want in your team, and the kind of manager you want to be leading them.
Taking the time to reflect on your perceived and actual authenticity will do a great deal of good for your team, your community and your self.
And when you are looking outward imagining the grass may be greener, perhaps look inward, get real, get authentic and finish the job.
For management coaching or to chat about how you can be a manager of integrity please contact us at [email protected]