“No man can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850
For those struggling with the perennial “personal brand” development, one question you might ask yourself is “What do I want the world to see?”
Because of the ubiquity of online content—whether on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, or elsewhere—we have an impression of what success looks like, as if a 15-second staged and edited video could tell the full story.
Weblebrities (not influencers, mind you) are no different than celebrities of decades ago, made glamorous by the Hollywood press machine, their reputations kept intact by an incestuous relationship between studio publicists and gossip columnists. We saw what they wanted us to see.
Everyone creating content online seeks fame, but authenticity and celebrity rarely go hand-in-hand.
Because people like a show. They like controversy. And we generally don’t live our lives being always “on.”
And this is why some people struggle with the ubiquitous advice to “be authentic.” They feel like they either owe people some kind of entertainment or that they’ll be ignored if they’re not controversial in some way.
“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” — William Shakespeare, 1601
Isn’t it liberating to just be yourself? To be comfortable with who you are, and to show up that way, every day?
Whether you’re headed to work, out with friends, or at a family gathering, you don’t need to be on, you just need to be you.
And when you’re yourself, you can live with less shame or regret later on. Edgar Guest wrote about this in his poem “Myself”:
I have to live with myself and so
I want to be fit for myself to know.
I want to be able as days go by,
always to look myself straight in the eye…
I want to go out with my head erect
I want to deserve all men’s respect;
but here in the struggle for fame and wealth
I want to be able to like myself.
I don’t want to look at myself and know that
I am… bluff and empty show.
I never can hide myself from me;
I see what others may never see;
I know what others may never know,
I never can fool myself and so,
whatever happens I want to be
self respecting and conscience free.
How we decide to show up will determine how we feel about ourselves, and as an extension, how we then treat other people.
Have you noticed that bullies invariably have problems with self-esteem? They bully others to make themselves feel more powerful, in many cases because they’re powerless in some other area of their life.
They feel badly about themselves and extend those feelings onto others. Deep down, they may know that they’re being abusive, and that in turn may make them feel even more dissatisfied with who they are.
Your feeling about yourself influences your behavior, the behavior of others, and what you perceive of yourself.
“Authenticity isn't about being someone else. It's about being the best version of yourself. ” — Fred Rogers
Just the Way You Are
Perhaps most powerfully, Mister Rogers demonstrated how he valued authenticity every day on his program when he told his millions of viewers, “I like you just the way you are.”
It was more than words, though. Fred Rogers backed it up in the way he treated everyone, giving them the ability to be the best version of themselves.
One day, a little boy named Jeff Erlanger visited the neighborhood in his electric wheelchair, days before a risky surgery. Mister Rogers visited with him sang “It’s You I Like” to Jeff, who also joined in.
Later, the two of them would be reunited in a surprise visit that brings me to tears every time I watch it. Every. Time.
“These are lovely sentiments,” you might be saying, “but what do they have to do with leadership?”
I’m glad you asked.
Think for a moment about the people who work with you. Are you giving them the ability to be themselves at work? To express their ideas, to be comfortable with who they are?
We post job descriptions that call for people who show initiative. But when they do, perhaps pursuing an unconventional idea at your company, are they castigated or rewarded?
When we say we’re okay with failure, but then we penalize those who fail, what does that do to those who would be authentic in their approach to solutions?
And particularly when we’re in Pride Month, how are you allowing people to be uniquely themselves? Perhaps even making it possible for them to be their authentic selves?
“As different as we are from one another, as unique as each one of us is, we are much more the same than we are different. That may be the most essential message of all, as we help our children grow toward being caring, compassionate, and charitable adults.” — Fred Rogers
And what about you? Do you have the ability to be your true self at work?
Perhaps you’re afraid of people discovering something about you—some personality flaw or lack of ability. You’re not alone. We’re all flawed. And the only people without impostor syndrome are actual impostors.
The leaders I admire most are those who are consistently themselves (i.e., authentic) whether they’re in front of a camera, a crowd, a boardroom, or an individual in an elevator.
When a leader shows how they’re comfortable in their own skin and treats people with dignity and respect, is curious, has integrity, is patient and kind, and the dozens of other timeless leadership qualities, we trust them.
And as we know, trust is the foundation of leadership.
Why not be yourself? Give people a chance to see and trust the real you.
The next guest on the Timeless Leadership podcast is Minter Dial, author of You Lead: How Being Yourself Makes You a Better Leader.
See what you missed on the recorded episode on Authenticity.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.