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Chameleon - be yourself or adapt

It can be hard for thoughtful leaders to be themselves in the workplace.

Particularly if being yourself means being quiet, introspective and thoughtful in an environment full of outgoing people.

What do you do?

Tone yourself down, or turn yourself up to suit others? Or just be yourself?

In this post, I’m going to take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of being your authentic self, as well as when to consider changing your style to suit the people around you.

The Benefits of Being Your Authentic Self

It’s obvious. Being authentic is a lot easier.

When you can be yourself, you don’t need to think hard about how you are behaving. It’s natural and instinctive.

If you are in a team or workplace where you feel you need to act as somebody else, it becomes tiring pretty quickly.

Dr. Brian Little talks about this in his TED talk “Who are you really?”

There is a lot of hype around the concept of authentic leadership too. An authentic leader is someone who shows integrity and acts based on their principles.

Being authentic makes it easier to build trust, because you’re not playing a part. You are being yourself.

People get to know and understand the real you and how you operate, which means you can ideally work better together.

Learn More:  Introverted Leaders vs. Extroverted Leaders. Who Wins?

But Are There Drawbacks to Being Yourself?

Yes, we are all unique snowflakes. And we’re all very special and all that.

But unfortunately, we all have aspects to our personality that aren’t suited to every situation or person we need to deal with.

To be your natural self all the time is aspirational and a nice idea, but sometimes it’s beneficial to adapt our style to suit the situation.

Vulnerability - Low in Confidence

I’m an introvert and when I deliver training, I have to be quite extroverted for the day. This is tiring, but it works better than being very quiet when I’m trying to help people something.

When I deal with a busy senior stakeholder, I try to get straight to the point. My normal style is not to be so direct, but I find it works better to adapt my approach in this situation.

We all have personality traits that are great in some situations, but not so great in others.

The trick is to know when to flex your style, and when to bring your natural self.

Learn More:  Just Beyond Yourself: When to Push Out of Your Comfort Zone.

Your Personality Is Not An Excuse

I’ve come across a few leaders in my time who say things like:

“I’m a <personality type>, which is why I <do something>”.

Unfortunately, personality isn’t an excuse for our behaviour.

We can control our behaviour when we put our mind to it, and when we have a degree of self-awareness of how our behaviour is impacting others.

This is good news, because it means we are adaptable.

We can flex our behaviour (and therefore our style) to different situations in ways that will help us to lead more effectively.

Meeting In the Middle

Psychometric or personality testing tools are common in the workplace these days.

Many teams use them in an effort to understand themselves and each other, so they can work better together.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that using these tools, we often speak about how we should adjust our approach to get the best out of other people.

In other words, how do we adapt our style to suit the other person.

One thing to be cautious of here is falling into the trap of always trying to accommodate someone else’s preferences.

That is, bending over backwards to make sure other people are happy.

Ideally, what should be happening is that both parties meet in the middle. They both adjust to better suit the other style, so that neither party needs to adjust too far.

It’s worth remembering that if we constantly change our style to suit others when they have no consideration for our own preferences, we could be setting a precedent that we are a pushover, always willing to accommodate what they want.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #92: Struggling to Say No? Try These 5 Ways!

When Should You Be Yourself, and When Should You Adjust Your Approach?

Sometimes adjusting your approach helps you to get a better outcome.

So the question is, when should we adapt, and when should we continue to show up in our natural style?

Here are some ideas to help you decide.

1. Understand Your “Personal Projects”

Chameleon - AdaptabilityA concept that I find useful when making a decision on whether I should adapt my style is whether doing so will help me to further one of my own personal projects.

A personal project doesn’t need to be work-related. It simply means something that is important for you that you want to improve or develop over time. This concept was introduced in Brian Little’s video which I linked to previously.

For some people this might be doing research, building a business or achieving career goals. For others, it might be taking care of their family.

If your career and reputation are important to you, then you may decide to speak up and “put yourself out there” when it comes to career opportunities, even though this is not something you would normally do.

Or, you might decide to give a presentation (even though you are a reserved person) because you’re passionate about spreading the word about what you’re working on.

2. Dealing With Important Stakeholders

Many of us are faced with important (often senior) stakeholders who we need to gain approvals or help us build momentum for an important project or initiative.

The main problem here is that important stakeholders often have power. When someone else has greater power, you’re more likely to need to adjust to meet their preferences.

It’s easier to build rapport with somebody who is like you. And how do we seem more like another person? We emulate their style.

This might mean we perhaps communicate more directly, or become more sociable, or focus on analytical details more than what we normally would.

Of course, your approach will depend on the person you’re speaking to.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #183 – Power Dynamics: How Are They Impacting Your Team?

Being Different Isn’t Necessarily Good for Rapport

When we’re trying to build rapport, it can be beneficial to be similar to the other person, rather than to stand out and be distinctive.

A friend recommended a potential coaching client to me once, so I set up an introductory chat to see what some of his challenges were.

He told me that he felt like he should be further along in his career, and he knew he could achieve very senior roles, but he just wasn’t getting the opportunity. He felt as if he was being overlooked at every turn.

Without any prompting, this person told me about his background in the military, and how it was one of the most significant parts of his life. He went into some detail about his previous military experience, even though it seemingly had very little to do with the conversation.

Now of course there is nothing wrong with being in the military. But what I noticed was that he was leading with this information, because he thought it made him stand out as more capable than other people and he obviously took great pride in it.

Showing Trust - Woman Smiling - Main

I thought to myself, “If he’s telling me this, he’s probably talking a lot about it at work, too.”

And you know what? Many of the people in his field wouldn’t necessarily have had military experience, so they may not resonate with his background.

He was actually making himself seem very different than the people around him, rather than making an effort to find common ground.

Sometimes standing out is a good thing, but at other times it can work against you.

3. Building Trust With Team Members

Now, even though you might be “the boss”, you may need to adjust your style when dealing with your team.

I find this is often useful when dealing with team members who are lacking in confidence, or when they simply have a very different personal style.

If you’re leading a team of technical specialists who love the details, being a “big picture” person can have the effect of making you seem out of touch.

If one of your team members is low in confidence, then you may find softening your approach and being less demanding or direct can be a useful approach to help them gain confidence and start to open up.

We don’t want to get into the situation where we need to “walk on eggshells”, being afraid of what we say and how we say it all the time. After all, this can be stressful and tiring.

But we do need to acknowledge that to get the best out of the people around us, we sometimes need to speak on their level, using an approach that aligns with their way of thinking.

Being Open About Yourself Can Be a Helpful Starting Point

There are many people that dismiss personality and psychometric tools as “pseudoscience” and nonsense.

However, I find they resonate with a lot of people, and they give us a nice starting point to try to describe our personal style to someone else.

You might consider using a tool like these to communicate your own style to the important people around you. I personally like the PRINT assessment, but there is also a free one here that you can try.

The real benefit here is that there are few surprises. If you are a direct communicator, then people will have that expectation.

That doesn’t mean you can be direct all the time, but people are likely to be more understanding if you slip into that mode from time to time.

Essentially, you set expectations about how you generally work, which can help others adjust to it. Likewise, if you learn more about others, you can adjust to suit them too.

Sometimes I hear people say “I don’t care what other people think” as an excuse to be themselves.

But the workplace is run by people, and you need to work with and collaborate with them from time to time.

It might be time to adapt your approach instead.

Do you find it hard to be yourself in your leadership role? Tell me and all the other thoughtful leaders some of your stories in the comments below!

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