Early in my career I had multiple manager personality disorder. I was respectful attentive John around my manager. John the comedian with my peers. I was authoritative with my direct reports and still someone else with customers.
Trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be led to a kind of management schizophrenia. Consciously putting on different management masks, I would try to “fake it until I make it.” The problem was people could see through my mini performances for what they were: disingenuous charades.
In the introduction to Malcolm Gladwell’s first hit book “Blink,” he describes how the Getty Art Museum once purchased a $10 million fake statue called a kouros. The Getty researched the piece exhaustively for months, but when they finally displayed it experts were skeptical.
“It didn’t look right… When [the art experts] – and all others – looked at the kouros and felt an ‘intuitive repulsion,’ they were absolutely right. In the first two seconds of looking – in a single glance – they were able to understand more about the essence of the statue than the team at the Getty was able to understand in fourteen months.” (page 7)
I could not fake my way through leadership. A manager faking his way through the job is like a fake statue – it just doesn’t look right. And like the art experts and visitors of the Getty, most of us can somehow detect when something is not the real deal.
I was afraid the real John couldn’t adequately meet the needs of company stakeholders, but I had to bring him to work.
Which John is the real John anyway? The joker or the stoic? The idealist or the pragmatist? The take-no-prisoners boss or the servant leader?
The truth is, I haven’t quiet figured it out yet. In the first seven years of my career my work and non-work behaviors have begun to merge into a singular persona –– an individual who’s a more balanced leader, a more balanced person. The sum of these behaviors add up to a clearer picture of the real me.
The old cliché “be yourself” might be the best management strategy ever, but it’s one that I will master only after years of experience. At least I’m not consciously putting my masks on before work anymore. Are you?