Persona or Personhood?
Looking for some tips to push your weight around? This isn’t the place. Looking for a way to express your true self effectively? This is for you. Read on.
I’m sitting at a table with conference attendees the day after my keynote. One woman tells me:
“During your talk, I turned to the gal sitting next to me and said: ‘Meryl just said the opposite of what the speaker before her said.'”
“Thanks for noticing!” I reply smiling. “I expected we would say different things the moment I heard the title of the keynote that I would follow was ‘Cultivating a Leadership Persona.’ I’ve spent most of my adult years working to drop persona and be the real deal.” They nodded approvingly and knowingly.
It used to bother me that my perspective usually is very different from others’. It doesn’t bother me anymore. And the speaker before me wasn’t wrong (except, in my opinion, to repeat the cultural bias that being a manager isn’t cool – we need to all be leaders instead. Every job has its own blend of the two functions.)
“What struck you as so different?” I ask.
“That feelings are part of powerful communication. The fellow before you would have us all be feeling-less robots.”
“I’m sorry. But we’re women!” the woman next to her exclaims. “He about croaked in a breakout session when someone asked ‘What do you do when you have a crier?'”
It isn’t just gender difference. I see being able to integrate feelings into professional communication as a leadership skill. I also see cultivating persona as a piece of the puzzle and not the whole deal. In my world, it’s better to, for example, become trustworthy, than to focus extensively on appearing trustworthy. Most of the time, who you are shines through any packaging attempt. If you have some residual habits that signal a lack of trustworthiness, it’s good to identify them and consciously change them. But I see that as secondary.
I also see persona as something to approach with caution. We can only consciously focus on a few things at a time. If I’m consciously attempting to appear confident, say by adopting a stance like the photo, that takes some of the bandwidth I need to listen well and BE confident because I understand the situation.
If you’re more interested in cultivating persona, don’t listen to me. It’s not my focus. If you’re interested in cultivating excellence, I’m your gal. That means cultivating true personhood. It takes longer – my eCourse is one whole year of learning and practice. But in the end, it makes you the best you that you can be. That beats persona any day, in my opinion.