Q: I often viewed the business world as one big contradiction. I felt like management wanted me to be authentic, yet I wasn't entirely allowed to be. What if your authentic self contrasts with the needs of your employer?
A: Contradictions exist when there is no obviously “right” answer. Smiling is great for customer service, but a losing strategy during a negotiation. There is a difference between professionalism and authenticity. Does your boss really want you to be authentic? Enlightened managers ask for input, but many bosses are just too busy, and some just don't care.
Employees, especially motivated and good ones, have ideas that deserve to be aired (although others are impressions that might morph as you learn more.) If you are dealing with a less mature manager, speaking your mind — especially too often — can alienate or annoy.
Much of the business world operates on the principle that “the show must go on.” This is a different context from social interactions. Would you want your surgeon to announce she’s on her way to the divorce court as soon as she sewed you up? Keeping private life or personal opinions out of the workplace is professionalism. On talk shows guests receive kudos for revealing what was formerly considered embarrassing. Perhaps this has moved our culture too far towards considering authenticity as a virtue in any context.
. . . Versus Authenticity
If you become a trusted employee, you will speak with a credible voice. So, first, do a great job. There is a place for authenticity but make sure your boss is someone who can “take it.” An ineffective manager is the number one reason people cite for leaving a job. It’s hard to be authentic with someone you want to run over with your car. If the role required in your job description is nearly impossible to play (perhaps because it contradicts who you are), then it’s time to take a look at whether you need a better match for your skills and interests, or a better manager?
An employer or client responds to positive energy and gratitude. You're more likely to succeed by winning friends and influencing people, no matter where you are in the hierarchy. If you struggle everyday to keep your authentic self under wraps, then you need to fake it 'til you make it — or find another road to success.
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