Welcome to The Living Room!

Welcome to The Living Room!

I'm developing this blog to foster a warm community of people interested in ideas, art, science and practice around personal development and flourishing.

I work as an executive coach, and founded a company whose mission is helping people to find success at work in a way that provides satisfaction across all areas of their lives (you can check us out at www.madeleineshaw.com.au).

Leadership, learning, the wonderful brain/body connection, presence, influence, emotions, thinking, effectiveness, flow and FUN.

I want to know more, and do more!

The world is our living room so let's get living.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Steady Chameleon

Do you recoil at the thought of the slippery leader - you know the one - she tells you exactly what she thinks you want to hear. She'll tell you the sky is green, if she thinks it'll get her whatever it is she wants.  And everyone knows it, and no-one likes it (or her). Or maybe he's the guy who "manages up" just enough to hide the lack of competence or empathy that's so obvious to his peers and reports.
No-one (ok - almost no-one) wants to be that person.  And yet, we also often hear what seems to be a conflicting message - that successful leaders adapt their style to the person they are with or the situation they are in. If that's true (and I believe it is):
How do you change AND stay the same?
Actually, most of us already do this. I don't act the same way in a coaching session, talking with a prospective client, buying groceries, cooking dinner, at a party. In fact, people who don't adapt in this way are the stuff of comedy - think of Robert de Niro behaving as though the whole world were a national security agency in Meet the Parents. More seriously, someone who insists on "just being myself" in exactly the same way in all situations is going to find themselves colliding with brick walls in their career and elsewhere in their life.
So why do so many of us resist changing within the sphere of work?
I have worked with several clients who accept that their "work" self shows up as different from their "home self" - but insist that having multiple work selves is fake - something distasteful that automatically takes them from hero to slippery-leader-zero.
There's a fascinating and useful HBR article on exactly this point: "Managing Authenticity: The paradox of great leadership".
(You can read the beginning of the article here but will need to be a subscriber or purchase a copy to read the lot.) They say:
Authenticity has often been thought of as the opposite of artifice - something that is straightforward, sincere and uncomplicated. But that conception of authenticity is not only simplistic, it is also wrongheaded. Managers who assume that their authenticity stems from an uncontrolled expression of their inner selves will never become authentic leaders. Great leaders understand that their reputation for authenticity needs to be painstakingly earned and carefully managed.
That's all well and good - but how? The authors of the article go into detail on this and it's well worth a look if you're interested.  In my coach training, I was shown a model which I found summed it up well. You want to look for the real part of yourself that overlaps with the role you're in at that moment (boss, friend, customer, sister) and the person you're interacting with. 

This model gave me permission to adapt AND still be my authentic self. I've since worked with this model with several clients, who find the same thing. Within work, we are constantly moving from role to role, and dealing with different people. To be effective, we need to access the part of our authentic self that is most appropriate at any given moment.
The skill is in being able to locate and access that part. To do that, you need to know and understand yourself, your role and the other person. "Just being myself", inflexibly, ignores the importance of these other 2 facets.
What about you? How do you adapt, and stay true to yourself? How do you develop the skills you need to find that overlap? What frameworks or ideas have you used to help you meet the needs of different people and roles?

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