Wharton professor Adam Grant wrote that people who are perceived as “highly authentic—they know and express their genuine selves… receive significantly lower performance evaluations and are significantly less likely to get promoted into leadership roles.”
So does that mean it pays to be inauthentic? Not at all.
It pays to be yourself, but only if you do it in a manner that is both respectful of the people around you and of service to them.
To illustrate my point, let’s consider Bill versus Bob.
Bill has no filter. If he feels it, he says it… even if that means interrupting someone else. He’s a talented designer, but his talent often gets obscured by his lack of impulse control. In a conference room packed with 15 people, he hissed at a subordinate, “That’s one of the worst pieces of work I’ve ever seen. It makes my skin crawl!”
Bob is a deeply passionate person. He’s driven, ambitious and highly creative. But he also has a strong set of core values, and the top two are to be of service to others and to always treat others with respect. He can be himself without being offensive. He can bite his tongue long enough to actually listen to others, even when they disagree with him.
Both Bill and Bob feel that they are bringing their true selves to work, but only Bob does it in a manner that recognizes he is not the only person in the world that matters.
Just as with everything in life, there is a price to be paid to get what you want. If you want to bring your true self to work, the price is to be respectful and to serve others. Here’s why.
Being respectful: My view of being respectful is that it is all about how you conduct yourself; it is not the metric by which you rate other people. You can be polite, courteous and even kind to someone who is ignorant. You can show compassion to someone who is immature and even mean.
As my friend Lonnie Mayne observes, everyone has a story, and you don’t know why another person acts the way s/he does. Maybe they grew up without parents, or love, or even enough food. Maybe they were the victim of abuse. Maybe they—just moments ago—received truly horrific news.
Being respectful should not be conditional on the other person passing your test. Such behavior says more about you than anything else, and it sends a signal to others that—no matter what—they can be themselves in your presence.
Not everyone agrees with me. In response to a post I shared about respect on LinkedIn, a reader responded, “I’ll never respect racists, homophobes, misogynists, or anyone who disrespects others…” Notice that he included “or disrespects others.” This simply creates a cycle of negativity. It says: if you don’t meet my standards, you don’t deserve my respect.
The problem is we have many different standards. Intelligent people disagree on many subjects.
No matter who you are or what you believe, you can get along with others by simply being respectful. It won’t work 100% of the time, but it will come close.
Being of service: Over the years, I’ve learned to transform the ways that passionate, driven entrepreneurs communicate both on social media and in person with their stakeholders. All it takes is getting them to embrace a three-word principle: serve, don’t sell.
It means that:
- Everything you share should be of service to others, even if they never do what you want
- You should only share opinions and ideas with the intention to be of service
- If you follow the two steps above, you will attract people who will enrich your career and life
Failure to follow this principle, perhaps more than anything else, is what causes “authentic” people to have the disappointing results Grant described. If you burst into my office and proceed to dump a 20-minute stream of consciousness diatribe into my lap, I will resent you. Why? Because nothing you shared was with the intention to help me.
Being yourself does not mean being all about yourself.
Now let’s turn things around. When you are both respectful and of service to others, people (and most organizations) give you more latitude to be yourself. This is because you add value and you bring out talent in others.
I won’t lie to you. The further away from societal norms you are, the longer it might take for others to “see” and accept your genuine self. But your fastest path to being fully accepted is to embrace these two principles.