Being authentic is in fashion–what many suggest we’re supposed to be. Wharton School management professor Adam Grant disagrees. He wrote “‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice” in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.
“Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world. As Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, defines it, authenticity is ‘the choice to let our true selves be seen.’”
Grant feels that “nobody wants to see your true self.” [I'll go a step farther and say nobody much cares much about you. Have you been asked “How are you?” or "How was vacation?" and before you respond the person is half way across the room.]
Back to Professor Grant. He shared the experience of an author who regretted saying everything that came to mind over a period of weeks. For example, the man told his in-laws they were boring and his kid’s nanny that he’d like to date her if his wife left him. After suffering the fallout from his truth-talk, this author concluded “Deceit makes our world go round.”
About millennials Grant observed that “like all younger generations [they] tend to be less concerned about social approval.” He warned: “Authentic self-expression works beautifully, until employers start to look at social media profiles.”
The professor, also author of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World,” [Penguin Random House], wrote that people are either high or low self-monitors.
- “If you’re a high self-monitor, you’re constantly scanning your environment for social cues and adjusting accordingly. You hate social awkwardness and desperately want to avoid offending anyone. According to Grant, high self-monitors, concerned about their reputations, advance faster and “are more likely to be promoted into leadership positions,” because they “spend more time finding out what others need and helping them.”
- “But if you’re a low self-monitor, you’re guided more by your inner states, regardless of your circumstances.” Most women are low self-monitors, encouraged by society to express their feelings he wrote. As a result they can appear unprofessional and weak. Grant shared an example of a woman given a management position at a major corporation. When she admitted to the 5,000+ employees for which she was now responsible that the “job was ‘scary,’” she shook their confidence in her.
Do you remember the no doubt apocryphal story about Henry Ford who did not hire a man he was considering for an executive position because he sprinkled salt on his dinner before tasting it? Grant would have called the dinner companion a low self-monitor. Citing a study of people given steak and salt cellars he reported that “high self-monitors tasted it before pouring salt, whereas low self-monitors salted it first.”
Being authentic and a low self-monitor makes for a good marriage, Grant wrote, “but in the rest of our lives, we pay a price for being too authentic.”
While calling it an old fashioned concept, Grant thinks Lionel Trilling [who died in 1975], had the answer when the author/literary critic/teacher suggested sincerity. “Instead of searching for our inner selves and then making a concerted effort to express them, Trilling urged us to start with our outer selves. Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be.”
Herminia Ibarra “found that high self-monitors were more likely than their authentic peers to experiment with different leadership styles.” Ibarra, an organizational behavior professor at Insead, a graduate business school in France, studied consultants and investment bankers. Grant wrote: “They watched senior leaders in the organization, borrowed their language and action, and practiced them until these became second nature. They were not authentic, but they were sincere. It made them more effective.”
Dr. Grant described himself as an introvert, yet he “acted out of character,” to force himself to speak in public. “No one wants to hear everything that’s in your head. They just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth.”
Do you salt your food before tasting it? Do you say whatever comes into your mind, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead? Do you fall into the high or low self-monitor category, or in between? Do you force yourself to act out of character to achieve meaningful goals? Do you think sincerity trumps authenticity and is the wisest approach both at home and at work?