Be yourself or be a leader: Why you don't have to choose

Written by
Karen Meager

24 Jun 2016

24 Jun 2016 • by Karen Meager

Being different at work to how you are at home happens for good reasons but can have a significant negative impact on your health and happiness. In a study we conducted for our book Real Leaders for the Real World, in personality profiling tests good leaders profiles generally as the general population would. This gave us hope, rather than there being one ‘personality type’ more synonymous with good leaders, they came in all psychological shapes and sizes.


Why be yourself at work

There are a two important reasons why leaders should be themselves at work:

  • As a leaders, people need to follow your example as a role model, if you are ‘putting on a face’ or performing as you think you should then people pick up at some level that it’s not real, for example you might come across as a bit fake. Therefore you are likely to see similar ‘performing’ type behaviours in the team.
  • If you are managing different personas for different contexts of your life then this will cause you stress and is likely to lead to psychological issues such a depression or burnout.
  • If the gap between you and how you are at work, the stress builds up and then comes out in an inappropriate way. For example if you ‘play nice’ at work when you are actually a more directive person this may come out inappropriately under stress or at a work’s social event by you being rude or saying something you later regret. Any inconsistent behaviour is usually a sign of of this.


How to bridge the gaps

Creating a different work personality is very common and happens for good reasons, for example when you first started work you met someone you admired and copied their behaviour as it seemed like to good way to get on. As you step into a leadership role though, people will be looking at you and your responsibilities will be more demanding - so now is a good time to assess the gap and take some action.


Let’s be clear, we are not advocating behaving exactly the same at work as you do at home. Romping around on the floor in a brainstorming session the same way you do with your kids in unlikely to end well. It’s the difference between behaving differently and ‘being a different person’ we are looking at here. We can flex our behaviour in different contexts rather than becoming someone different, it’s a subtle but critical difference. Here are some ways you can take those first steps:


1. Write down all the things that are important to you in the context of your career or professional


2. Look at what you’ve written down and ask yourself ‘ do I behave this way most of the time at work?’


3. Where the answer is no then consider what action you might take to bring yourself back in line with what’s important to you. For example, if ‘respect’ was on your list but you find yourself sometimes stepping on people’s toes or being overly aggressive then you’ve probably learnt that from someone else at some point in your career, it’s not you. Think about how you can achieve your goals whilst staying true to your value of respect.


By gradually addressing each gap you can realign your behaviour so that you are both being yourself and being professional.