In the course of COVID ravaging society in various ways, one aspect that repeatedly came to the forefront was stark differences among us: the already-rich seemed to get infinitely richer, and many of the rest of us struggled with a mix of stress, new norms, responsibilities, health concerns, and connection.
The very notion of people working from home became somewhat of a class struggle, as those with bigger homes and more dedicated office spaces thrived, while those trapped in tiny urban apartments that mark your 20s for so many of us struggled.
At the same time, social justice movements were seemingly everywhere, and it was hard to figure out who was being a genuine person around those: was the black square on your IG performative, or in true solidarity with a movement? The Yale Daily News even admitted that the line between genuine allyship and performative activism was “blurred.”
It’s been a weird 12-14 months for this idea of being a genuine person, being authentic, being true to yourself, or whatever your preferred term is, because (1) many are being questioned about how genuine they are and (2) we haven’t had as much face-to-face, hug-to-hug contact, and evaluating genuineness through a laptop screen is a bit more challenging.
There’s another wrinkle to add here as well: ideas around being a genuine person or authenticity can be paradoxical, because oftentimes companies preach that they want those qualities -- but the individual line managers (people managers) do not want them. They want people who will log-in, do the work, attend the meetings, follow the directives, and not put up a big fuss often.
Now, not every manager is like that -- the best ones are definitely not -- but many managers are, and sadly “authenticity at work” can make you a layoff candidate in many jobs. That’s not the world we want to live in, and it’s not the world at every company, but it’s the reality for a good chunk of them.
That’s why 66% of employees don’t feel comfortable showing their true self to colleagues.
In this whole complicated smorgasbord of human emotion and the need for genuine people, how do you develop the ability to be more genuine? What habits and traits should you practice? Could it help companies? And what can Fingerprint for Success do in the process?
Let’s dive in.
Christina Fong, a researcher at the University of Washington, did a study around the effects of emotional ambivalence on creativity and productivity. The basic takeaway was that people don’t accept demonstrations of emotional intelligence at face value. They don’t just want to see signs of emotional intelligence. They want to know that it’s genuine—that your emotions are authentic.
Fong said of co-workers: “They are not just mindless automatons. They think about the emotions they see and care whether they are sincere or manipulative.”
The same study -- bless their hearts -- showed that sincere leaders are far more effective at motivating people because they inspire trust and admiration through their actions, not just their words.
There are similar studies out there, most of which begin to point organizations in the direction of “You need more emotionally-intelligent, self-aware, genuine people in your ranks.” (If they’re listening to the science beyond the revenue, that is.)
Now it’s important to understand some traits that make up the genuine person.
This one would stand to reason, right?
Ego turns people off, and it can get you a bad personal brand internally very quickly. No one wants to work with, or for, someone with a massive ego. Even if they’re a high-performer, it eventually gets very tedious. Look at something Reed Hastings, of Netflix, once said:
Indeed. And to stay within the tech revolution of the last 20 years, Marc Andreessen is a super successful venture capitalist. Here’s what he said on ego a few years ago:
Why do we make those mistakes of omission so often? “It’s almost always because we have some theory for why something’s not going to work,” Andreessen says. “You develop an idea, and then you look for all the evidence that supports it and ignore all the evidence that disproves it. You get locked into your ideas.” That mindset works against you, Andreessen warns, because what didn’t work in the past might work now. “Just because MySpace didn’t reach Facebook levels of scale didn’t mean Facebook wouldn’t be able to. So you have to be ruthlessly open-minded and constantly willing to reexamine your assumptions,” Andreessen says. “You have to take the ego out of ideas, which is a very hard thing to do.”
“Constantly willing to re-examine your assumptions.”
“Take the ego out of ideas.”
These are traits of a genuine person.
This appears to matter greatly to both the individual --
The most striking piece of research I found is that people who have an inaccurate self-assessment, who don’t have high self-awareness, derail. They get fired or demoted six times more frequently than people that have an accurate self-conception. It’s not about thinking that you’re great at everything. People who understand what they are good at can move around their weaknesses or the fact that they have a vulnerability. People who think they’re good at too many things or have a difficult time facing the music end up failing six times more frequently than those with accurate self-conception.
And for teams:
A “self-aware” team is 68 on decision quality, a 73 on coordination and a 65 on conflict management; a “non-self-aware” team is 32 on decision quality, 27 on coordination, and 35 on conflict management. That means two of the three matrices were cut in half simply on self-awareness within the team, and one (conflict management) was basically cut in half.
Again, core traits of being a genuine person thus far:
This would seem in some ways to be the primary definition of a genuine person.
Here’s a deep-dive interview with the CEO of Boston Consulting Group, and this part stands out:
If there was one piece of advice he would give CEOs, said Lesser, it was that “you can’t be two selves … you can’t be who you are in public and act one way, and go behind closed doors and act differently.”
In general, very few of us want to work with two-faced people, and definitely there’s not a strong desire towards two-faced leaders. We saw this a lot with social justice in 2020 and 2021 -- leaders will claim to be deeply committed to diversity and inclusion, but not much seems to change on the ground or the composition of the Board seats.
We saw it around COVID itself too -- companies and leaders preached how important, dare we say “essential,” certain workers were, and then they barely raised pay or cut hazard pay within months of the outbreak.
A genuine person -- and more importantly, a genuine leader -- is consistent in their actions.
So now we’re at:
Some of these traits are more important than others in a personal relationship context (i.e. romantic, friendship) and some are more important in a professional context (i.e. co-worker or manager). Not all these traits are equally as important, or fixed; you may encounter a genuine person who doesn’t always share openly, for example, and they still might be a genuine person overall.
A lot of this goes back to the issue we raised at the top of this post: if you are genuine overall and do like your job, there can be perverse repercussions to being “real” and “transparent” and “sharing,” because some in the decision-making ranks may not like that approach.
As such, a genuine person can exist who downplays ego, wants to learn, listens to you, etc. -- but maybe doesn’t share everything openly. And while they’re still a genuine person, the transparency is pushed down in the name of professional self-preservation. (And that’s OK.)
This is one of the bigger questions of adulthood, personally and professionally. It’s akin to “Can empathy be taught after age 25 or so?” The short answer to that second question is: “The scientific jury is still out.” As for being a genuine person, there are some things you can try, absolutely:
Listen deeply: In the eyes of someone else, probably the strongest marker of you being a genuine person is that you listen to them, and seem to understand and process what’s being said. Try to have one conversation per week personally and professionally where you listen for more than 80% of the time. Don’t look for opportunities to jump in with a viewpoint or fact or story. Just listen. Just be.
Minimize your own ego: This is tough, but it’s doable. At the end of a day, keep a journal where you list three (3) positive elements of the day and one (1) negative element. This keeps you in a positive mindset, but it also reminds you that, at the end of the week, you have seven (7) things you can improve. When you do achieve pockets of success, celebrate them -- you deserve it! -- but also ask yourself: who or what else played into this? Most success is not wholly individual, and if you can understand the bigger context of the team or people/situations that got you there, you can begin to lessen your own ego.
Walk the walk and talk the talk: Every month, revisit some of your core viewpoints and goals for life, now and in the future. What matters to you? What is a non-negotiable? As you post online or interact with co-workers, keep those goals and beliefs top of mind, and always act in the service of them. Now, at the same time you need to be able to listen to the viewpoints, beliefs, goals, processes, and approaches of other people, yes. But if you keep your belief structures top of mind, it will minimize two-faced or hypocritical pivots and presentations, which is how people come to think of you as less of a genuine person.
Be self-aware: The journal idea above can help. Sometimes, email old friends and colleagues and ask about things you did well and didn’t do well when they knew you best. You won’t get a lot of responses, but the people who take the time to respond will send some interesting ideas you probably hadn’t considered about yourself. Talk to a coach (more on that in a second). Talk to a therapist if you want. Join groups of different people, people not within the same mindset as you, and see how they think. Ask them what they think of your beliefs and viewpoints. In a job setting, just go talk to someone in other silos (HR, Ops, Marketing, etc.) and see how they approach and process things, then fit that back into your worldview.
Reach out to people; be there for them: Even for people with perfectly curated social media profiles, life is not easy. Friends depart, kids enter, grandparents and parents pass on, jobs change, jobs are lost, etc. It sounds trite, but it’s a roller coaster. Many people navigate this whole process with the help of a partner (potentially), some familial support (again, potentially), a few friends, and maybe a coach/therapist/outside help. But we crave connection as humans, and paradoxically have less of it at the personal level despite having more of it at the technological level. So, if you want to be a genuine person, reach out to some of your friends just because. You could text them randomly on a Wednesday just to see what’s up or, if you haven’t heard from them in a while or see something troubling that they post, contact them. Ask what’s up. It’s easy to get involved deeply in your life and tasks -- we all do it, essentially -- but try this. It’s more genuine, connective, and honestly human than just worrying about the next thing on the Trello board.
We offer AI and human coaching, which involves components of authenticity, including assessments for developing an internal frame of reference and fostering more out-of-the-box thinking. Ultimately this helps with a great deal professionally, including talent development and resolving conflict across teams.
Look at some of those options and if you have more questions about the path to being a genuine person for friends and colleagues (and most importantly, yourself), don’t hesitate to reach out. You can also schedule a free demo to learn how F4S can help improve your ability and path to being a genuine person.
Our programs were designed by world-renown coaches, and sessions only take 5-15 minutes. Get started for free with personalized program now by chatting in the box below:
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