I will be more of ME.
One of the first email messages I receive in 2021. The sender, Aaron, is a Senior Executive in the biotech world with an expansive global portfolio. It’s his new mantra for 2021, born of a week of self-reflection.
Manifest my immediate future by practicing awareness of the present moment at all times.
If this sounds a little woo-woo to you – rest assured, Aaron is a physician/scientist. He is not a woo-woo guy. The mantra suggests that Aaron frequently is not himself, or perhaps doesn’t feel like he fully shows up as himself at work. Have you ever had that feeling? And more importantly – what the heck does it mean to more fully be ourselves at work?
Bill George’s “True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership” was a major leadership bestseller a decade ago. Tell your crucible stories, George, the former CEO of Medtronic, suggested. Drop the perfect professional veneer. Show the side of you that didn’t always have it all together and had to overcome a lot of barriers and challenges.
Nice. But tell your crucible stories once too often, and self-revelation runs the danger of becoming just another leadership shtick. Vulnerability will suddenly take the narcissism exit on the highway of too much of you.
I will be more of ME.
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What does this actually look like in our everyday professional lives? Moment by moment? Let’s start exactly where Aaron begins – because it is the perfect starting point:
1. Practice Awareness of the Present Moment
Know what you’re thinking or feeling. That sounds kind of obvious, doesn’t it? Here’s the rub. When we’re busy doing, doing, doing and doing some more, we run the risk of not actually noticing what we’re thinking of feeling. We’re “divorced’ from our thoughts and feelings. Our thoughts and feelings are by no means the holy grail that we need to bow to at all times – but they’re an indicator of whether we’re in sync with the tasks we’re performing. Get out of sync too often, and we’re suddenly disconnected from what matters most to us. We run the danger of forgetting who we are. We’re simply busy “doing stuff.”
Beware: If you discover that your thoughts and feelings are too often out of sync with your work environment, it may lead you to one of two powerful leadership insights: You may need to make some changes in how you think about your work environment and the folks you work with (a mindset adjustment), or you may need to find a more congruent place of work.
2. Go to Bat for What Matters to You
The more senior your role, the more we want you to have a clear point-of-view. We want you to articulate this point-of-view. We want you to, ideally, offer this perspective without being self-righteous. We want you to expand our thinking. We want to know what’s important to you. We want you to offer new solutions. We, perhaps, even want you to challenge us and our thinking. But we also want you to acknowledge that our ideas and our path forward are valid, even when you don’t agree with them.
Beware: Jean, a highly regarded manufacturing CFO, felt her company’s new corporate strategy wasn’t bold enough. She repeatedly suggested tactics she felt would yield stronger financial returns. At some point Will, the CEO, snapped: “We heard you, Jean. We get it. But we’ve made the decision to not go down that path at this point, Ok?” Jean had gone to bat for a strategy her CEO didn’t want. She owned her voice. She also didn’t know when to quit. Go to bat for something that’s important to you – and know when to stop pushing!
3. Make It More About THEM, Less About YOU
This may seem like a paradox. The opposite of Point 2. Showing up as more of who we are is complex. At its best, it means we know how to richly be in relationship with others. The more we talk, the less we are in relationship. We just talk a lot! Our ability to shut up and listen and be genuinely curious about another person’s thoughts and ideas, coupled with our ability to then demonstrate that we have heard – that’s a powerful way of revealing ourselves. Our thoughtful response to another person, in the moment, reveals more about us than any premeditated remarks we may have in store.
Beware: When we put a high degree of our attention on others and encourage them to speak, we are challenged to answer them with honesty and clarity rather than with platitudes. They smell right away when we’re just “going through the relationship motions.” When we merely go through the motions, we’re showing a part of ourselves that isn’t pretty.
4. Assume Responsibility for Everything
That means the good, the bad and the ugly. Assuming responsibility is the ultimate test of character. Our willingness to not avoid. To look things squarely in the eye. To not cover up personal flaws or inadequacies, or to deny or camouflage errors we or our team have made. To not point fingers at others. This is the part where we drop the perfect professional mask Bill George writes about. Want to be more of you? Own it. Own it all.
Beware: Do not assume responsibility for things that you or your team are NOT responsible for – that’s fake humility. But choose to be kind toward those who may have erred, those who you may not care for or much respect. Your ability to be unfailingly kind is another measure of your character.
More of ME. I have learned that the more I let go of any fixed notion of what that ME is, the better off I am. Any fixed notion of ME is inherently limited by my imperfect understanding of the mysteries of human behavior. Just when I think I know, I like to remember what Jung said about the 4 major archetypes. He defines them as the Self, the Persona, the Shadow and the Anima/Animus.
Powerful descriptors. They barely scratch the surface of what this ME is. There’s a lot to what makes up who I am, and much of it I’m not conscious of. So let go of the notion of having to know or show all of YOU. Release the More of ME pressure.
And have a bit of fun showing more of YOU.