Being authentic in our work
When I met Geoff Bellman, I was struck by what a nice and wise man he was. This is an excerpt from one his books: Geoffrey Bellman (2002) The Consultant’s Calling: bringing who you are to what you do, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, ISBN 0-7879-5847-6, pp.68-70
I must have the opportunity to be myself at work. Please note the subtitle of this book: ‘Bringing who you are to what you do’. I have done work that requires me to pretend constantly, to step into a heavy and awkward costume that requires me to pretend to be another person. This is just too hard! I can imagine a threat hanging over me that could make it necessary, but only with that threat could I do it. I can imagine it, but I don’t choose it. This work increases the possibility of my becoming my better self while in service to others.
Independent consultants have the opportunity to shape their business around themselves; that is a privilege less available to workers who are asked to shape themselves around an assigned role within a system, perhaps even to a machine or a process. We can pattern our little businesses to our own design. That leads to certain questions: What is my design for this little business? What is the business becoming? Who am I, and how does that show through my work? What am I becoming? How will I present myself inside and outside of work? What do I tell others about who I am and what I do? These questions link to the idea of authenticity.
Without pursuing the answers to these questions, we become entirely reactive to what’s going on “out there” in the business world and lose touch with what is going on “in here” with ourselves. We will not know the answers before venturing forth, but we should know the questions and be seeking their answers. Many answers will reveal themselves as we encounter the marketplace.
Working for yourself, by yourself, requires a helluva lot of motivation! That motivation is directly linked to your authenticity: to the extent that through this work you are who you want to be, you will persevere on this path. To the extent that this work requires you to playa role that doesn’t fit you, the path will be less attractive, and you will be less motivated.
The basic reason to pursue authenticity in your work is not just to be motivated; that is a valuable by-product. The better reason is that there is nothing more important to do in this life than to become yourself. And you can do that by being an authentic consultant. When you intend to become yourself through your work, you eliminate a lot of complications, You don’t have to remember what role you are trying to play, because you are being yourself. You can forget about how you should behave at work and at home because there is no difference in the perspective you bring to each place, You don’t have to tell small lies to cause people to think you are someone you are not. You don’t have to pretend, invent, fake, or feign interest. There is nothing to make up; there is no posturing to do. Your life is simplified by your authenticity.
You can use your work experiences to hone your understanding of what it means to be authentic. For example, while giving my consulting time to a local nonprofit, I found myself being unusually blunt with the client. My bluntness was particularly effective, partly because it was so clear, I was not tiptoeing around the issues; I was not worried about whether the client would hire me again, I later realized that I was behaving differently because I was not being paid to do the work. I learned something about what I withhold from my paying clients for fear of losing their friendship, the work, and my reputation, My success with the volunteer work caused me to think that I might also have been withholding my effectiveness from paying clients, That experience moved me a notch closer to authenticity with other clients.