Be Yourself Or Get Out
In the breakout area, I chat with Ginger, a colleague I’ll be working with closely this summer, between sessions of a program she’s helping deliver to Boeing directors from various business units. We’ve just finished talking about Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods. I don’t have a lot of thoughts on the matter. What I want to say is Amazon is taking over the world! but I think that’s been said before, so I mostly just listen. Other people around us are saying things like, 13 billion, that’s a drop in the bucket, which is not something I’ve become accustomed to hearing or thinking. Once Ginger has offered her legitimate thoughts on this issue, she moves on to a compliment.
“It’s been great to have you here. Your enthusiasm and openness is really refreshing, and it’s making me miss working in higher education.”
“Oh, thanks,” I reply, genuinely. It means a lot to hear this amidst a tough, sometimes lonely, first couple weeks on the job. “I really appreciate that, because with so much learning and exposure to different types of leaders, I have the tendency to take characteristics from people around me and sort of adopt them for myself. I need to remember to not be afraid to bring everything I am and not be ashamed of it.”
“No, you’re doing really great,” she said, “and you did a really nice job presenting in that meeting earlier this week, but I did hear a bit of Monica in your presentation.”
To clarify, Monica is our manager, a business leader with 15 years of professional experience. She speaks slowly, articulates, uses fancy and smart-sounding business terminology, and always has explanations for things that happen. She’s worth aspiring to.
Ginger continues, referring to my comment about “taking on” characteristics of others: “I will tell you, try to moderate that, because that’s the type of thing that leads to bureaucracy at Boeing.”
I don’t press her for details or defend myself, but practice what Ginger herself and my other colleagues have been teaching Boeing directors this week about feedback (“feedback is a gift. When you receive feedback, all you need to do is say two words: thank you.”)
“Thank you,” I say.
That meeting Ginger was talking about? She wasn’t just blowing smoke; let me tell you, I crushed that meeting. I had all the numbers, trends, and visual displays whose beauty transcended any of my previously known capabilities, whose very appearance would make the likes of Vincent Van Gogh weep beautiful artist tears. I articulated what I needed to, spoke slowly, paused for dramatic effect on not one but SEVERAL occasions, and even offered some theories on the current trends (without even being asked!). If I had been using a microphone, I would have concluded with a confident but humble “any questions?” (knowing full well there wouldn’t be any), dropped said mic, and strutted out of the room to the tune of Aloe Blacc’s “I’m The Man,” and part of the mystique would be that nobody would have even known where the music was coming from or how it just started on the chorus like that.
But here’s the thing: that meeting, my first report-out of the summer, could have been the beginning of a free-fall into hardcore assimilation, chameleon-like adaptability that would have robbed Boeing of getting the real Matty C.
What I’m describing is a concept in personality theory called self-monitoring. In case you don’t know, I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, so I am well qualified to speak on such matters at length WHENEVER I DEEM NECESSARY. In fact, I have begun starting each and every sentence I say here at Boeing with, “well, I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, so….” Self-monitoring, in terms of personality theory, is regulating your behavior to accommodate various social situations. If you’re high in self-monitoring, you may act differently in different situations with different people, and almost adopt the behavior of those people. Self-monitors are extremely concerned with the public self and, like actors, try to figure out what “role” they should play depending on the context or company.
Let me be clear: self-monitoring is neither inherently good nor bad. There are positive and negative aspects and perceptions of people who are high in self-monitoring. For example, the fact that I’m a high self-monitor explains why I’m such a good actor, wondrously likeable, and why I’m so boyishly charming across many different situations (it doesn’t explain how I’m so humble, though). On the flip side, high self-monitors can be seen as whatever the opposite of genuine is and vane. They are generally good salespeople, telling you what you want to hear, without actually caring about you as a person. These are generalizations, but can often ring true with me. (I don’t actually care about any of you. (There it is again. See what I’m doing? I’m using humor to mask the realities of trying to get you to like me. (And now I’m explaining it, which is making it worse.)))
Life is made of spectrums, not dichotomies. It’s not ALL good or ALL bad. It’s moderation. Self-monitoring is a part of my personality and something I use, mostly subconsciously, and it’s been really helpful and will continue to be as I launch my professional career. I’ve often used self-monitoring as a tool to fit in across many different social situations (alas, even countries and continents). It has helped me to empathize with people, because I can see life from their perspective. It will be crucial for me to continue looking up to people like Monica and cherry picking certain aspects of their professional behavior for myself. But there are downsides: when I’m so concerned with my public self, I don’t necessarily bring my personal strengths, personality, and gifts to the forefront. My manager and others in my group may not have noticed my use of self-monitoring, so I needed someone like Ginger who understands psychology and higher learning to check me on it. I needed a gentle reminder to be confident in my own personality, gifts, and experiences, and to bring the best of who I am to this organization. Otherwise, I could be responsible for the neo-bureaucratization of Boeing, and I don’t need that weight on my shoulders.