Have you ever been fired? Do you know why? In “3 Clues You Were a Bad Intern,” Christina—whom I fired 14 years ago—talks about breaking unwritten rules of the professional world. Signs you’re doing it wrong, if you will. But what I’d like to ask is this: Is there only one way, one set of rules, to get it right?
Just like cooking, you’re not restricted to the components of a recipe. You have the opportunity to create a signature dish with your own combination of the right ingredients. And because people are like palates (no two are alike), you can use what ingredients, or traits, work best for you in building your working relationships.
Just don’t forget or substitute the one key ingredient—authenticity. While it might seem like a simple concept, something you can just sprinkle on, it’s a mandatory something if you want to succeed—to do well at and keep your job. But putting it into action can pose a real challenge.
Why is that? For starters human beings are wired for connection—whether to a person or purpose—yet many of us have learned to be driven by competition. There’s a significant difference within us—emotionally and physically—when we approach work believing we have to fight, singlehandedly, to get ahead rather than work together to make a difference.
Whether it’s feeding the hungry or styling a celebrity, every organization seeks to make a difference, and it’s easier to be authentic when you find meaning in the cause. When we compete, we compare. We look at those around us, and instead of letting down our guard, we put up a front.
Behind every front or façade, I’d venture to say is a big ego with a small frame of mind, with only themselves in the picture. This narrow viewpoint poses real relationship struggles because it ignores the big picture. Big egos are so focused on their appearance to others that they let pettiness consume their time instead of productive activities.
One of my very best bosses was the opposite of an egomaniac. She considered herself part of the team—it just so happened she was chosen to lead it. There was no pretense, just a calm confidence. She was approachable, communicative and, most important, she kept it real. She treated us like valuable human beings, not a group of human doings.
Exposing humanity in the workplace doesn’t make us weak. To the contrary, the strength it conjures is like a powerful magnetic force. Because my boss cared more about our common goal than herself, it made us all want to work even harder—not just for the cause but to make her look good, too. The morale was so high and energy so positive that some days I actually wondered if I was allowed to enjoy my job that much.
It may seem counterintuitive, but when you put the greater good ahead of your own personal gain, the latter will naturally follow (and with more ease than if you did it the other way). This isn’t manipulative. This is a natural effect when your work is aligned with your values.
The happiest, and consequently most productive, I’ve ever been at a company was when I felt like I was making a positive contribution and was connected to the purpose and the people.
If you find yourself in a place where authenticity is a scarcity, along with the ingredients you need to cook up your own recipe for success, it might be time to shop around. With your time and precious energy, it’s ultimately your life you are creating, your signature dish.