Think of the best colleagues you’ve ever had. What was it that made them successful? Chances are they were dedicated and productive, full of smart ideas, trusted their team, followed through on their promises, and carried more than their weight. Most of that goes without saying. But past that, what kind of people were they? Were they inspiring? Data-driven? Naturally funny? Eloquent? Introverted? Methodical? What kind of people were they really?
Depending on who you’re thinking of, they might have been any of those things. Or none of them. Great colleagues do great work but they do it in different ways; great managers lead effectively but they lead in different ways. Yet, beyond performance, one thing likely unites all the people you’re thinking about: authenticity.
At Lingo Live, we think authenticity is profoundly important. We’ve organized our entire product and coaching philosophy to help uncover our learner’s authentic selves. Because the confidence that comes with authenticity is life-changing, for every individual learner and for the organizations that are lucky enough to have them.
A lot of this starts with communication and controlling how you want to come across to others. Think of it this way: have you ever tried learning another language? In the early stages, it’s impossible to be the real you. You don’t have the requisite vocabulary, you don’t understand the nuance of word choices, and because of that, you can’t really follow conversations or contribute in a meaningful way. You can’t be the authentic you. And that’s incredibly frustrating.
This happens to a lot of people at their workplace. Because they don’t have the tools and confidence to communicate authentically, they can’t contribute to their fullest potential. And while this is something non-native speakers often struggle with, native English speakers do too. They might not know how to have important but difficult conversations with a colleague. They might struggle presenting ideas or leading successful meetings. They might perceive unconscious biases on their teams that prevent them from expressing themselves freely. In sum, they might not be comfortable being their genuine self.
And that last part is really important. We don’t believe that great organizations are made up of the same sort of person. Far from that, in fact. Being prescriptive–telling people how to behave–doesn’t work. It actually accomplishes the exact opposite thing. It forces people into a role they often aren’t comfortable playing. Our goal isn’t to force people into boxes. Rather, it’s to give them the tools they need to show up the way they want to show up. To give them control over how they’re being perceived, to accept their weaknesses and their strengths, and to give them the confidence to be authentic. That’s when we do our best work.
It’s not just something we believe either. There’s plenty of research to back it up. Take this Marcus Buckingham article in HBR for example. Buckingham was looking to find out “what great managers do” and discovered a few important things we want to call out here.
First: “there are as many styles of management as there are managers.” In other words, there’s no silver bullet, no prescriptive way of being a leader. Remember the list of traits from our first paragraph? That’s what we were talking about.
But there’s a more important thing in this research. Buckingham noted that truly great managers “…discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it.” In other words, they understand each person’s authentic self and give them the roles and responsibilities that fit their genuine strengths.
Buckingham gives an example of an employee who struggled with open-ended tasks but excelled when given specific, concrete instructions. A great manager noticed this, tailored his role, and he became a great performer instead of a struggling one. And there are innumerable examples of this. But they end up boiling down, at an elemental level, to authenticity. Imagine then, that the employee in question was comfortable talking to his manager about just this. Imagine if he’d said “I do really well when you lay out the steps and the goal explicitly.” Then his manager wouldn’t have had to intuit this. It’s to her credit that she did, certainly, but if both parties were up front, honest, and communicative, they’d have arrived at a better place much more quickly.
This is what we mean at Lingo Live when we talk about “authenticity.” We mean understanding yourself and how you’re perceived, knowing how to communicate, knowing how to find success in your own natural way, and what sort of behavior and attitudes are appropriate for your daily life at work (we all still need to curtail the worst of our impulses, after all.) It’s why we don’t offer a generic application that runs you through a series of exercises and questions and hopes that in the end you’ll be better at your job. Instead, we pair real people with real coaches who start with a self-assessment to understand where the learner needs to go and then give you the tools to discover your authentic voice. The modern workplace isn’t organized in a strictly hierarchical way, after all. The best organizations take good ideas from anywhere and execute on them. And great ideas come from people who are willing to take chances, who are comfortable in themselves and their environment. If we’re not, often times, we won’t speak up and those great ideas lay dormant. Authenticity leads to full participation.
We believe that by unlocking our authentic selves we unlock our full potential. We’re happier, we perform better, we do better work, make products, make smarter decisions, and develop the real bonds that drive team and organizational success. We think it all comes down to that one thing: authenticity.
After all, think back to your mental list of the best colleagues you’ve ever had. Can you think of a single one that wasn’t authentic? We can’t either.