As an Executive Coach, my job is to help people change for good. Not everyone is ready for such a project. Some people just want everyone around them to change instead. And others worry that if they change their behaviors, they’ll come off as inauthentic—a fake. Truth is, if you’re unable to adapt your approach to people and situations, your relationships will suffer and your career will hit a wall.
Authenticity is about being real…not rigid. That is, it’s not about stubbornly holding on to valued personality traits—or even beliefs—that aren’t working. The most successful leaders adapt to people and situations gracefully and appropriately.
I once had the pleasure of working for an inspiring leader who made the difficult transition from mid-level manager to C-suite executive. Three of his most prized personal qualities were:
Culled while growing up in the Middle-East, and honed for business in New York City, these traits were part of a mixture that propelled him to success. It wasn’t until he landed a job in Northern California, in a company culture known for being ‘nice’ and agreeable, that he rain into trouble.
With the help of a coach, he came to quickly see that people were misunderstanding his intent. People thought he was intimidating, closed-minded, and a poor listener. His communication style was masking qualities and values such as being open to influence and deep care for others. He could have claimed that these traits were “part of his DNA,” but he cared more about being effective than being rigidly right.
You Are Bigger than Your Personality
Contrary to what you might have heard, your MBTI, DiSC – or any other personality inventory score—is not etched in stone, and is certainly not an excuse for poor adaptability. You are responsible for your beliefs, values, and behaviors. And you can change them.
Authenticity requires a deep understanding of yourself. Adaptability requires a deep understanding of others: what they need and how you affect them.
Before you can make any changes, you must first get an objective assessment of what is and isn’t working. Here’s one way:
1. Make a list of valued traits that best describe you.
2. Find someone you respect, who can be objective and honest with you. If you don’t have such a person, consider using a neutral party like a coach.
3. Ask this neutral person: When does this quality work well? When does it undermine me?
For example, let’s assume you describe yourself as passionate. They might tell you that this trait:
- Works well when you devote passion to developing your team.
- Undermines you when you devote passion to winning an argument.
Authentic Advice From an Undercover FBI Agent
Still doubt whether you can be authentic and adaptive at once? This post was inspired by LaRay Quy, who wrote 5 Ways to become a more authentic leader. I suspect that if she can figure out how to call up her authentic self while serving as an undercover FBI agent, we normal folk can too.
“People can spot inauthenticity from fifty paces. Show up as yourself consistently. Unless of course, you are a jackass.”
- Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership
- Book: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: Marshall Goldsmith. Learn the habits every manager needs to break to successfully transition to senior leadership
- Blog Posts:
We’d like to hear from you!
How do you adapt your favorite personality traits to people and situations? We’d love to know!