There is something incredibly liberating and transformative about being someone else.
A shy woman may choose to dress up in a wonder woman costume to attend a Halloween party, giving her the opportunity to feel and display confidence. A trait she normally doesn’t assert.
A man may choose Batman attire to summon the courage to overcome traumatic events. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Robin Rosenberg, costumes give people the opportunity to work through difficult and trying personal events. Batman, she explains, overcame the trauma of witnessing his parents murder. When people dress up as this superhero they too feel they can overcome their own traumatic experiences.
The magic of costumes
Halloween is an opportunity to dress in different outfits, sport a new hairstyle, wear a different shade of lipstick. We also get to try on different behaviours. Those that embody the character we are pretending to be.
In many ways stepping up to a new leadership position involves the same process.
People that are successful in their new roles try on different personas, and imitate the behaviours of successful others, despite feeling foolish and often like a fraud.
Have you ever felt like an imposter?
Ironically, those who have difficulty adapting to new roles tend to fail because they hold steadfast to what they know, what they are good at, and what is most comfortable, citing these behaviours as “authentic” and true to “self”.
As Management Scholar and career transition Guru, Herminia Ibarra, points out – “which self”????
Decades of research by Hazel Markus, PhD has revealed that we humans have many different selves. Yesterday’s self, today’s self or tomorrow’s self. Which self are you referring to exactly?
You see relying on “authentic” old behaviours may keep you from feeling like an imposter, but it will also keep you shackled to a past “self” that perceives change as “loss” and anchor you to an old way of being.
So, what are we to do?
Dr. Ibarra advises the following:
Learn from different people
Try on different personas and emulate a diverse set of successful role models. We learn by watching and imitating others. Do, as Wilson Mizer, the playwright, advises: “copying one author is plagiarism, but copying many is research!”
What will eventually become your leadership style is likely to be a combination of successful strategies you picked up from others that you have made your own.
So, mirror your boss’s presentation style, imitate the CEO’s wardrobe choices, and emulate your colleague’s negotiation tactics, if you respect and admire their expressions.
Approach this transition with a focus on learning
Instead of solely focusing on performance and results, the stuff that makes us look good to others (which is important and will be taken up in a future post), Ibarra’s research indicates that we should also concentrate on the “learning” opportunity new roles afford. A learning orientation helps us reconcile our desire to lead authentically, with our equally powerful desire to grow.
Change your narrative
A few years ago, I started to incorporate a communication assessment called Dynamix into one my graduate level business courses.
I learned that my dominant communication style is green. Greens focus on building consensus, harmony, trust and cohesion. When we work in teams, we want to get to know our colleagues before we get down to business.
It turns out that we greens tend to frustrate our fellow reds. Reds are results oriented, direct, focussed, assertive and decisive. They are in many ways our opposite. They focus on outcomes and results. The people thing can come later, but it’s not as important as the task at hand.
This got me thinking.
As a predominant green I must really frustrate my red students.
At the beginning of the term I clarify all my academic policies, assignment and exam dates in my syllabus. But assignment guidelines and mid-term exam details come later.
My reds hate this because they want to know assignment details and objectives at the beginning of the term so they can plan their time and prioritize their projects – it’s a pretty effective strategy! Only, it’s not the way I work.
But it’s the way THEY work, and it’s what they need to be successful.
I have worked really hard these past 3 years to provide my reds with detailed explanations of my expectations and precise instructions and examples for all assignments.
I find the process exhausting and painful and so not me!!! And when I embody the red persona in class, I often feel like I am having an out of body experience.
In the past two years when students are asked what they believe my predominant communication style to be, they shout loud and clear – RED.
RED?! Kind of hilarious, don’t you think?!
In time, I learned that to be effective with all my students I had to embrace foreign behaviours that made me uncomfortable. But you know what? My authentic self was falling short.
What helped was focussing on my effectiveness as a teacher and capitalizing on my motivation to have a positive influence on my students.
Incorporating RED behaviours into my teaching repertoire has become my new narrative.
Growth experiences are challenging, uncomfortable and make us feel uneasy. But, more often than not, they end up being the most worthwhile of endeavors.
As Harvard’s Amy Cuddy teaches, sometimes we just have to fake it until we become it.
To your success!