Watching myself on video was cringe worthy. The RBF, the terse responses, not seeking to understand the other side looked like selfish ignorance. It. Was. Awful. While my “position” was valid, my approach was so, so off. I had no idea how people saw me until I sat there and watched myself on video. At the time, I was in my first true leadership position and that wasn’t the leader that I wanted to be.
I spent the first half of my career trying to balance who I thought I was supposed to be and who I thought I was. As I started to move into leadership positions, I began getting consistent feedback that I was “too direct”, had a “big personality”, and sometimes “off putting” to others. This was so frustrating to me because, in my head, I was “just being myself”. So, I found myself a coach. In our first session, she told me to just “be myself” and we role played a meeting I had earlier that week. She video recorded it. As I watched that video, I was NOT the person I wanted to be. So I started to dig in to understand what was going on. In doing this work, I realized a few things …
I didn’t really know who I was. I had never really put good thought into how I want others to see me, what my true values are, and *most importantly* how that comes out from a behavior standpoint.
I was trying too hard. As I started moving into leadership positions, I was typically a bit younger and typically in the gender minority in the room. I felt like I had to prove myself. Imposter syndrome was real and I didn’t know how to manage it.
I was accidentally acting like someone I wasn’t. I was trying to adjust my behavior based on feedback without really digging into who I was and how that manifested itself in my behavior. Not surpirsingly, I started becoming someone I wasn’t … or didn’t want to be.
The lesson for me in all of that was simple. Just saying “I’m gonna be myself” isn’t effective or fair. It’s too one-sided. As a leader who has big impact on others, it’s not fair to not do the work around how your behavior impacts others - intentionally or not. You only get to be “unapologetically yourself” after you’ve done the work:
Understand really who you are. What’s important to you and what do you value? From the video, it looked like all I valued was being right. But that wasn’t true.
Make sure it’s coming out that way. What are your behaviors? Again, in that awful video, I wasn’t listening, I was waiting to respond.
Experiment with what that looks like in various situations. Are you consistent, or not? I knew this was my pattern. I had good relationships with people, but when I stepped into a negotiation or just a business discussion, I was a total pit bull and just focused on winning, which has huge relationship costs.
Dig into why you’re behaving the way you are. I was promoted quickly and insecure in my ability to do the job. I wanted so badly perform, but worried that I wouldn’t. That insecurity drove my behavior.
How do others see you? Find partners to help you see what you don’t see. For those who knew me, they chalked it up to my “drive”. But for those who didn’t, they had a much lesser opinion of me, I’m sure.
Rinse and repeat as you continue along in your career. Your environment changes which makes this process iterative. This is key for me. I have key people who are willing to give me feedback on my style. These are mentors, as well as people who report to me. I’m transparent with what I’m working on, and they hold me accountable for how I am seen by others.
After you do this work, you’ll be a better leader … and also a better spouse, parent, and human. From there, you have a responsibility to help others who are either knowingly or unknowingly suffering from their own identity crisis. Making the invisible visible is powerful for people.
Have you ever suffered from an identity crisis?