Have you ever been asked this question? (well, if you are a man you may have been asked if you are an actor). I was asked it yesterday morning and certainly it has got me thinking. Let me paint the scene for you. I was in a meeting with a very inteligent, forward-thinking and successful man, who had seen me speak a year ago at a conference. He tracked me down and suggested we meet because he is embarking on a huge project that he thinks I could assist with.
Why, I asked, when he must have met hundreds of people and seen lots of people speak since he had last seen me, did he spend two hours of his precious time talking to me about the possibility of getting involved in his idea. Because ‘you have a talent’ he said. ‘You are a captivating speaker, you are an actress. You are like Meryl Streep performing for the 100th time with the same amount of passion as the first time you did it, but what I want to know is, are you genuine or are you just an actress providing us with a good show’? I have to confess I was taken aback when he asked me that. I have never thought about whether or not I am genuine. I know I bring a lot of my dramatic arts background in to my presentations and treat my speaker platform like a stage, but am I genuine? Of course I am genuine I wanted to hola back, how dare you question my integrity. But not wanting to appear fake, I sat wide-eyed in silence for a second and then meekly replied that I love South Africa; and genuinly want to make it work, which is why I went in to teaching and education in the first place.
Keith often talks about authenticity and being real in the leadership space, which has often prompted me to think about authenticity in general when navigating the new world of work. So, for example, when I train and present one of the questions I will present is: how does one respond with authenticity to change? In other words, we all acknowldge that change is the only constant and that it is inevitable, but how do I do change? The obvious focus point here is technology. My colleague Mike talks about different psychological responses to social media, for example, which are not necessarily linked to your generation. So what is your authentic response to social media, would be a good question. That does not imply you turn a blind eye and pretend it doesn’t exist, but if you are not interested in it yourself, do you collaborate with someone who is, do you get interested in it, do you hope it will go away? I have worked hard at coming to terms with my own limitations in the technology space, but does this make me genuine?
In thinking for the last 24 hours about the question put to me yesterday, I have contemplated over what I perceive to be a need to be self-aware in order to be genuine. Self-awareness, raising one’s emotional intelligence (EQ) is a passion of mine not only in the work space but in my private capacity. I talk all the time about identity, the ego, different brain states, the need for genuine self-confidence, coping strategies, the dangers of being over-stimulated, personal power and loosing a sense of one’s authentic self often in my training and presentation space. Particularly in the context of a highly volatile, choice-ridden and competitive economy. I have spoken to everybody from insurance sales people to actors about the need to be aware of one’s self in order to navigate the new world of work. Does this make me more (or less) genuine?
I think being genuine about what one believes in and talks about and how one presents this are two separate things. I have realised in thinking about this that just because I present in a dramatised way does not mean I am not genuine. I do that because I believe the performance creates a visual and a kinetic experience is memorable and will hopefully make an impact. I present this way because I love performing and making people laugh and entertaining people (as well as educating them and making them think). I present this way because it comes naturally to me; and we all have our own genuine, authentic to us way of being, presenting, managing, teaching, parenting, selling and living. The questions really are: are we being authentic to ourselves, are we living consciously, are we exploring better ways of being, are we open to changing ourselves and the way we have always done things in the face of all the change around us?
My answer to those questions for myself is, absolutely. I try to be authentic to myself, to live consciously, to explore better ways of being and to be open to changing myself. Do I always get it right, absolutely not, but that doesn’t make me fake.
So, am I an actress or am I real? I am both. I tweet (occassionally and sporadically) therefore I am (or does that mean I am only occassionally and sporadically exist?). Surely the fact that I exist makes me real, or does being real carry more meaning than that? I suspect so. I am an actress for sure, we all act. When we feel unsure but put on a brave face, when we feel unwell but go to work anyway, when we meet someone we don’t really like but are polite despite what we want to say. Are we then being fake? One could argue therefore that realness is circumstantial and I would add to that: dependent on your company. I am absolutely real with those I love and trust and less so with those I am unfamiliar with, aren’t we all? I am completely real about the subject matter I talk on; and mean it when I say that as a teacher/ trainer/ presenter I can only bring you the information, but that those listening to me have to decide for themselves whether or not they believe it and want to learn it. I encourage people to authentically (to them) respond to what I have to say.
I would love to hear your thoughts on how real you think you are and what ‘realness’ even means in the face of so much change.