I don’t know about you, but I am really enjoying the new wave of authenticity washing over business. Through sheer necessity in recent months we have invited colleagues into our homes to observe us as we juggle multiple roles – domestic and professional – breaking down many of the boundaries that previously separated home and work.
For my generation, GenX, this is both disconcerting and liberating in equal measure.
Disconcerting because much of Generation X was conditioned in its formative years to project a certain persona in order to be ‘successful’. Back then our professional role models embodied certain characteristics and we sought to emulate them (or was that just me?) as we ‘grew up’ in business. And liberating – well, because today’s work culture at last encourages us to be our authentic selves at work and celebrates the benefits the rounded individual (rather than the robot) can bring through diversity of thought and action.
Having been educated in the 1980s, us GenXers burst into the workforce brimming with self-belief that we could do – and be – anything. I can remember how it felt arriving at work in the early 1990s (particularly entering a creative profession), full of ideas and drive to make a difference. Sadly, the workplace wasn’t quite ready for us.
Somewhat disappointed, over time, many of us found ourselves mirroring the behaviours of the leaders of the day. We created a new persona and an accompanying elevator pitch, polished to within an inch of its life, ready for the job interview or panel discussion where the opportunity would eventually arise to showcase it to the world. We fought our way through unconscious (and conscious) bias, jumped hurdles and grafted day and night to master our craft. We learned (wrongly) that revealing your true personality at work in the 1990s wasn’t the done thing if you were to become a leader.
I’m sure if we were to reflect on those elevator pitches today, we would find them quite funny (that’s if we could find them). They certainly wouldn’t quite have the same ring to them. And that’s because the days have passed when leaders need to fit a certain profile. And thank goodness for that. Today, we are encouraged to bring our ‘whole selves’ to work, and in the case of my own employer, Fujitsu, to ‘be completely you’.
And that’s why, as we adapt to a world where many more people work from home, not only do we get to know each other’s families and pets (not to mention marvel at the mandatory book collections that are de rigeur as a video call backdrop), but we also increase our capacity for compassion and empathy because we see real people and real life – in all their glory.
With hindsight, I don’t necessarily think it was a bad thing for GenX to be conditioned in this way; after all, 51% of leadership roles globally are now fulfilled by GenXers so we must have done something right. We dug deep, working relentlessly, travelling excessively and proving ourselves, earning the right to take those roles.
I am so pleased that the new wave of authenticity has arrived at a time when I can do something with it. I like to think that I can blend the ‘edge’ I acquired fighting through those tough years in the 1990s and noughties with my innate empathy, which finally has the chance to emerge from the shadows, to the benefit of the people with whom I engage daily.
With time, maturity and experience, GenX has reprogrammed, ditching the polished pitch in favour of a more authentic bio, which is all the richer because it showcases our uniqueness – not our sameness.
The current global crisis has forced us all to be more considerate and to respect the challenges and constraints others are facing, and there’s never been a better time to be a leader.
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