by Dr. Eric Zabiegalski
So I’m a little left of center, I’m a little out of tune,
some say I’m paranormal, so I just bend their spoon,
who wants to be ordinary, in a crazy mixed up world
– Michelle Branch, American singer/songwriter. You Get Me
Michelle Branch’s catchy 2001 song has it right, nobody wants to be ordinary. Yet society, our employers, peers, even loved ones seem to beckon us toward average. Eventually, most of us conceal or lose track of our authentic selves behind a cloak of ordinary and conform to what we think others want from us. However, the actual truth is we are certainly notordinary, not in any way and not any one of us. Instead of squelching our uniqueness and authentic selves’ individuals, organizations and society should be celebrating and encouraging it. We should be actively searching for the ways in which we are different; the world needs our uniqueness.
Last month we talked about creating a more balanced you and the last part of that equation is being your authentic self, providing the best you can muster for your organizations, yourself, your family, and humanity. Why? Because ambidextrous organizations(AO’s), those that can both exploit and explore with equal success are at their core (their culture) authentic and at the core of your company’s culture is you. Most importantly, a genuine you gives an entire organization permission to also be authentic.
A few articles back I mentioned I saw a movie which had a powerful message; the movie was Glass by M. Night Shyamalan. In it, a secret society monitored and controlled people who believed they had “super powers”, a super-hero, or villain, delusion. This delusional grandeur however was not delusional. In the movie, there were individuals who possessed superhuman abilities and the secret society worked to keep these people suppressed for the good of humanity. In article ten, I told the story of Icarus and discussed governors we put on ourselves and others impose upon us. In article twelve, I discussed the nature of realityand in article thirteen; we redefined consciousness. As Buckminster Fuller said we’re all born genius’s but the act of living “de-geniuses’” us. Being your authentic self means finding and reconnecting with your genius, your superpowers, unique qualities and abilities you possess and sharing them with the world. Though there may not be true superheroes among us like in the movie, the world has and continues to see remarkable individuals who achieve remarkable feats. Think of athletes like Jim Thorpeor recent Olympic medal winner Michael Phelps, Daniel Tammet who recited pi from memory to 22,514 digits and Buddhist monks who alter their body temperature with their minds. People with unique abilities are all around us and one of them is you.
Finding your authentic Self
Whenever I’m in the city, I love to run, it’s always an energizing, visceral, and rewarding experience. One morning not long ago, I was fortunate enough to go on a run through the city with my cousin, son, and brother-in-law. I was in my element and able to be my authentic self, it was a real experience with people I care about who also care about me, I’ll never forget it! What is authenticity like in the workplace? It’s a little like my run on that spring day.
Author Mike Robbins says it’s not about honesty it’s about realness, it’s an “in the moment” phenomena and includes things like vulnerability, humility, courage, individuality, knowing yourself and personality, and its contagious, practicing it gives others permission to also be real. Robbins warns however, authenticity is not an excuse to be rude, outrageous, or detrimental, far from getting you praised such behavior might damage your career. Researcher Caroline Mchugh in a lecture entitled: “The Art of Being Yourself”, says about authenticity “individuality is everything it’s cracked up to be.” She says authentic people are larger than life and shine as if they swallowed the moon. We all know people like this, and their personalities draw us in like a moth to a flame. Mchugh says society “archetypes” us around the age of 6 or 7 and this reinforces our developing consciousness, it also introduces self-consciousness. As a result, you become less good at being yourself. Authentic people however have figured out their one true gift and she says your job is to be good at being you, you can’t be anyone else. Interestingly, Mchugh discusses two classis complexes that are signs of a fragile ego and offers a third of her own design as a healthier alternative.
Mchugh says an inferiority complex comes when you suffer from an over-modest self-regard while superiority is when you think you’re the most important person in the room. One is about delusions of insignificance while the other delusions of grandeur and both require the cooperative participation of others. In one, you need people to find you out (for the imposter you really are); while in the other, people around you need to be smaller in order to feel superior. An Interiority complex, by comparison, is a third way of being in the world and offers a perceptual vantage point and a sensibility. It’s an orientation unrelative to others and the only place in your life Mchugh says where you have no competition as it’s not possible to find exact comparison to yourself. While it’s impossible to be perception-less such an orientation allows you to be perception-free. Without it there are as many opinions of yourself as there are people and you could spend a lifetime searching for yourself in the conjecture of others, never finding you. Operating from interiority is a liberating, untragic way to live authentically says Mchugh.
A big part of authenticity is about managing ego. We all need an ego and Mchugh says your whole life has been about building a more stable relationship with it. Superiority, inferiority, our ego takes us to extremes, disrupting our lives and endeavors by cueing us up to an outside world vs. an inside compass. Authenticity is about taking your ego from its dominant position and putting it in the service of you. Develop a position that’s impervious to both good and bad, to anything! What if organizations could have the same effect authentic people do? Drawing us in with their magnetic allure, would we run to work there? Would it profoundly change us?
Is authenticity important for organizations to have? Rohit Bhargava author of Personality Not Includedsays yes, companies need personality yet many organizations including most of them in the field I’m in, still think companies should be faceless, or at the very least “personality-less.” This kind of thinking is outdated however, and the picture is changing even more against this mindset as we move further into the digital and AI economies. Customers no longer want to interface with companies and people pretending to be automatons, especially since they’re interfacing with real automatons with increasing frequency. Additionally, employees no longer want to feel like they’re a voiceless part of a machine as they realize working without authenticity is, well, inauthentic, and reduces them to the status of a commodity.
Organizations have traditionally feared personality and authenticity because they thought it would destroy any air of success or trustworthiness they have says Bhargava. However, to create a true bond with customers you must give your company a voice and employees should be empowered to be spokespeople, feeling confident in expressing their companies’ vision. When openly able to talk about your passion you energize yourself and inspire others (mirror neurons) and build on the credibility of your company. The accidental spokesperson, who catches the “authenticity bug”, will enthusiastically herald your organizations message, for free! This is probably the most vivid and real voice your brand could hope for; you’ll never have this opportunity without first allowing authenticity.
Bhargava says most companies are also afraid of lateral thinkers who come up with ideas which challenge or change current practices. So, instead of encouraging their employees to think outside the box, they urge them to follow instructions and fall in line. It’s essential to avoid this kind of thinking because the image of your company relies not just on how your employees do their jobs but also about how they feel about their jobs. If your company discourages authenticity and employees become automatons, it will be reflected in your company’s image, culture and identity and you won’t have believable spokespeople. Only a few carefully vetted appointees with a high gloss, watered down, or disingenuous message.
Here’s the bottom line, your organization can’t have it both ways, you can’t have engaged authentic people and then dictate the terms of their engagement and authenticity. Author Price Pritchett in his book New Work Habits cites a Gallup poll which says only 15 percent of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs. Price says the best employee engagement program is one that is driven by your employees own self-interest. What does this mean? It means employees may have signed on with you to do a specific job but they want to do it their way provided they give you desired results. And they want to develop their careers in their own way too, developing their authentic selves. What can support like this do for you? For one thing it represents future investment, you’re likely to have engaged and happy employees.
Once you learn who you are and get comfortable with your authentic self, the first thing you will notice is relief because you will realize you are no longer replaceable. Sure, you could be physically replaced but they won’t get another you and your co-workers and employer will know this. What’s a commodity? It’s an article of trade or commerce, a product. Commodities are valuable things we need and depend on but they should never be people. Commodities are replaceable, consumable, unremarkable from one another, and plentiful. Think about McDonald’s restaurants and their products, they’re the same the world over and you don’t have any preference as to which one you might visit for a cheeseburger. When people allow themselves to become cheeseburgers, either by volition or because their organization treat them like commodities, just like the paper cups at McDonalds, they become replaceable, don’t be a cheeseburger.
The Why and How
Why do organizations do this? They most likely fear losing something (market share, control, customer trust) or, perhaps they think if they standardize their workforce the way they have their products they will have a more efficient business. How do they do it? By choking individual personality and authenticity and promoting arbitrary one-size-fits-all policies. When you take humanity out of business what kind of business are you left with? Zappos, online shoe and clothing retailer promotes what it calls “work/life integration” in an effort to integrate their employee’s professional and personal lives. Additionally, the company encourages individuality, the pursuit of pleasure at work and even “weirdness” in their workforce, i.e. authenticity.
The Reunion of Humanity and Business
When organizations inadvertently or intentionally turn people away from authenticity, they begin down a slippery slope and companies find themselves with all manner of undiagnosed maladies which erode organizational culture, identity, and performance, friend and researcher Rob Bogosian knows these ills all too well. An expert on cultures of voice and cultures of silence. Rob says when organizations go silent it’s a bad sign and can be an indicator of problems ranging from issues of psychological safety to apathy. I haven’t discussed a correlation between authenticity and organizational voice with Rob, however I am willing to bet there’s a connection. So, make yourself useful, dependable, and valuable like a commodity, but also bring your authentic self, and if you feel you can’t, it might be a sign your company is not an ambidextrous organization (AO) or even capable of becoming one. It might be a sign to move on to a more courageous, productive, and authentic place. Remember this advice, your biggest responsibility in life is to bring your authentic self to all you do, make sure it’s happy, and invited to the party. As the saying goes, “go where your celebrated not tolerated” Eric.