I bumped into a colleague outside of a work context recently. He was just out with his family, on a Saturday doing chores-with-the-family-on-a-Saturday kind of stuff, and we bumped into each other in Starbucks. During the week, this person is suited and booted, always smart, smooth, and professional. When we met, he was unshaven, and dressed down. Really dressed down. And you know what? He looked like a different person.
When I said hi, he did a double take and had more than a hint of embarrassment in his eye, as if his cover had somehow been blown. Like I had stumbled across his secret world, where he was real, exposed. Well, himself.
And this got me to thinking. What is he missing out on at work? What are his people missing out on? He looked so much more at ease, comfortable, free, relaxed outside of work. He looked happy, relaxed. He was warmer. He looked authentic.
These are not words I would use to describe this person during the week. How amazing would it be if he brought some of these qualities to work with him? And I wondered why he doesn't.
Over a tall, skinny latte with three shots of sugar-free hazelnut syrup, I wondered how many people suspend their personality when they come to the office? How many people squidge themselves into the shape of the manager, leader, role model they think they should be when they come to work? How many people cut the edges off to conform to the same grey stereotype as everyone else, suppressing their personality to conform to their perception of what they should be? Denying what they are? Hiding their natural gifts?
I read an interesting book some time ago now, but it gave me some interesting insights that have stayed with me. It's called The G Quotient, by Kirk Snyder, who, after considerable research of successful gay executives (hence the G), discovered that they engender many, many times more engagement from their employees than their straight counterparts.
Kirk's conclusion after speaking with many gay execs is that they go through a journey of understanding who they are which leads them to form their own approach and style. They refuse simply to adopt the identikit approach to leadership favoured by the many. They force themselves to take a journey to discover who they are – what's behind the propaganda they were taught –we're all taught – as we grow up.
They take time to think about who they are, what they believe, how they want to be, Kirk argues. They make a conscious decision about how to use their gifts to lead others. And results suggest that this absolute authenticity reaps tangible results.
To my mind, this shouldn't be a luxury that's only explored by Kirk's gay execs. It should be something that we all go through. Taking time to understand ourselves, and spending real, quality time thinking about how we can leverage the best of ourselves at work, rather than blindly meeting the expectations that the corporate world has crafted for us.
In this new world, where are people are looking for greater connection, and are so much more selective about where they place their loyalties, do you really think they are going to respond with genuine passion and enthusiasm, to someone that doesn't give them the same?
To persuade them to release that treasured discretionary effort, we are going to have to work harder – we are going to have to recapture our sense of ourselves and who we are, and translate this into our leadership style. Our people don't want the same-old, same-old. They want something new, something real, something authentic, something believable. Could that be you?