Why this matters
You can only be people-centred if first you understand yourself. Knowing what drives you enables you to operate authentically and fulfil your potential with ease. It enables you to be the best version of yourself. It ensures that you get the best out of your team. It starts with knowing yourself and is accelerated by having a growth mindset.
But, as with anything you need to do, to be good at it, you need to start from a solid foundation. It’s a bit like the instructions you hear on flight safety announcements (ah, do you remember when we could fly? Those were the days!) Passengers are always told to put their own oxygen mask on before helping others. The same goes for leadership and management. You can’t begin to help others thrive until you have your own house in order.
That starts with being centred in yourself. Being authentic. And authenticity is underpinned by a level of self-awareness which helps you truly know yourself. Once you have gone through that process, it immediately helps you to be empathetic and support others to do the same. There’s a wonderful virtuous cycle of knowledge, learning and support when your self-awareness is well developed.
It also means taking good care of yourself. We all have our own version of kryptonite that can derail us. Once we stop taking care of ourselves, those triggers that derail us have a greater chance of taking hold. We lose perspective. Our inner critic takes over. And we stop being the best version of ourselves. And that limits our ability to help others too.
We have our own values and belief systems – the things that guide us, our moral compass, our north star, the things which going against would seem to compromise our integrity.
Our values and our personality drive our behaviours and how they manifest themselves from day to day. Our attitude. Our moods. Our response to any given situation. They are visible to others in how we operate. Risk-averse or risk-taker. Shy or confident. Procrastinator or completer-finisher. And we all require different stimuli to nourish those different parts of us. Our social life, family, exercise, hobbies, culture, and our work.
Work is personal to you too. It could be a means to an end, it could be your vocation. It could align to your values in a way which gives you purpose. It could be about pushing your intellectual development. And these drivers may change over time.
Being authentic just means being yourself. And that is your whole self – what you believe in, your personality preferences, the way you behave, the things that matter to you, your motivation.
Yet, so many people don’t bring their whole selves to work. They bring the part that they think they should show.
That judgement is formed by a whole host of external factors. The prevailing culture of the organisation. The behaviour of your peers and manager. The desire to fit in. And ultimately, they impact on your confidence to be yourself.
So why bother? Why not just show the bits of you that you need to and keep the rest private?
We know it can sometimes be hard to bring your whole self to work. But pretending to be something that you’re not, or hiding a part of you, is not good for your mental health and wellbeing. A life at work and then your life outside of work might sound like a sensible compartmentalising strategy, but taken to extremes – where you deny who you are or feel constrained at being able to be yourself – is exhausting, debilitating and damaging.
Authenticity is not just a buzzword, it’s about being at peace with who you are. Every idiosyncrasy. Every brilliant talent. Every irritating weakness. Seeing the value in yourself and acknowledging how others value you, even if you find that hard to see. Authenticity is grounding. Calming. Accepting. It is open. It enhances your accessibility and approachability in the eyes of others. It is real. It is you.
Self-awareness as the starting point to operating authentically
Knowing yourself helps you to have the self-awareness and compassion to see things from another perspective. There’s no right or wrong, just a difference in perspective – something that is easy to forget when the pressure is on.
Our personality traits become ingrained in childhood and are at the root of how we react to situations. Everyone has them and understanding your own helps you to understand others and to be empathetic to their needs. They underpin your motivation, leadership approach, communication style, decision-making, and how you judge others – including stereotyping. They also influence how you manage disagreement and stress.
On a practical level, if you haven’t yet done any kind of psychometric assessment, it’s worth looking at the tools available to you to better understand your own personality traits (such as MBTI or FIRO-B) and when your strengths can become weaknesses, as in the Hogan Development Survey. They often provide you with insight which will help you better understand other people’s reactions too.
Sports psychologist Dr Steve Peters described why people behave irrationally in his book The Chimp Paradox. He describes how the limbic system, as the more primitive and immediate part of our brain, acts on feelings and emotions; it can override the rational part of our brain in the frontal lobe. This limbic system is evolutionarily much older, designed to protect us from harm, hence why it is triggered faster than the logical element. He defines this as our ‘inner chimp’, which can take over and cause us to react irrationally.
The subconscious mind is programmed to answer the questions we ask and bring up supporting evidence. That’s why reflection in a negative frame of mind will bring up unhelpful evidence, whereas asking yourself about what you’ve learnt will bring up a very different response from your subconscious. For example, compare ‘why do all my projects fail?’ to ‘how does this event help me to achieve my aim?’
As well as understanding yourself and others being a key tenet of operating authentically, this also has practical advantages as we work in ways where we are no longer expected to have all the answers. Collaborating and tapping into the ideas of others necessitates the ability to understand other people’s styles and build rapport effectively. This emotional intelligence – or emotional capability as it is better described – is critical to developing empathy and authenticity.
When you have a clear understanding of yourself then you can assess whether the role and organisation you work for are aligned with your values and preferences. If they are not aligned, you can survive for a while but not thrive. Behaving in a way that is at odds with your normal self becomes exhausting and leads to stress and possibly burnout. Being grounded by your authentic self, informed by self-awareness, means that you have control of yourself and your reactions.
Self-care enables you to stay connected to your authentic self
We all know that our own well-being is essential to our ability to perform well. And that we have a responsibility to do this for our teams. In that order – think of the airline reminder to put our own oxygen mask on before helping others. So why do we neglect this most important of priorities?
Thankfully, the culture of presenteeism and the long hours associated with it are in decline, but that doesn’t mean that the work–life balance challenges have gone away. Quite the opposite. Technology means we are always on. The predominance of home-working for those who used to be in offices as a result of coronavirus means those boundaries are more blurred than ever. There is plenty of research that tells us that the increasing time we spend at work has a negative impact on productivity, as well as a decline in the ability to problem-solve. Innovation and creativity dry up and, worst of all, we drain our reserves so there is nothing to draw on when there is an urgent need for us to respond.
Resilience is about how you optimise your performance. It is not a static state.
There are countless ways in which we can all find our own peace with the modern world of work. And even more resources out there to support you in this. What is vital is that you do whatever it is that works for you to take care of your physical and mental wellbeing. Doing this is what generates your resilience. And for the avoidance of doubt, we do not believe for a moment that resilience is about toughening up or being able to withstand more pressure or stress than you used to be able to. Quite the opposite. Resilience is about how you optimise your performance. It is not a static state. Resilience will change in response to your experience. Whether you’ve had a great day or you are wrestling with an intractable problem, the important point is to recognise how you are feeling and take measures to ensure you can cope. That is true resilience – having agency over your own wellbeing. There’s a great resource for assessing your resilience at the end of this chapter.
A good starting point is to think about your response to setbacks. Do you tend to look for what went well and the learning you’ve generated for the future or do you dwell on the negatives? Reflection is essential for learning, but negative naval-gazing can be destructive in the longer term. Do you measure your success relative to your own experience and career journey or do you compare yourself to others? Relative comparisons can often create further hurdles in your mind and rarely leads to a sense of fulfilment, whereas recognising how much valuable experience you have gained compared to where you were six months, a year, or three years ago is a much more meaningful assessment.
Reflections for you
We hope that has given you some food for thought about how you connect with your authentic self, deepen your self-awareness and pay attention to your self-care. These questions might help prompt further reflection:
- What drives you at work? Does that come from a good place that makes you connect with who you are?
- Do you bring your whole self to work? If you are hiding any part of you, why is that?
- Do you prioritise your own wellbeing? If not, how can you take better care of yourself?
Julie Nerney, co-author of Own Your Day
Julie Nerney is a serial entrepreneur, transformation expert, CEO, NED, Chair, guest lecturer and public speaker. With insights from working with hundreds of organisations across every sector, she is certain that how teams and leaders approach work is a far bigger driver of success than what they do. She is a passionate advocate for authentic, purposeful leadership.
This article is based on extracts from Own Your Day. You can find out more about the book, including more content and the chance to get involved at www.ownyourday.substack.com or follow us on Twitter at @OwnYourDay_Book. You can order your copy of Own Your Day; From Amazon here; From Bookshop.org which supports independent booksellers here; From Hive which supports local high streets here
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Editor’s Note: This article is featured here courtesy of Practical Inspiration Publishing