We have often heard that it is important to be authentic at work if one is to be a high performing leader. Being authentic requires a deep understanding of ourselves and who we are.
This authenticity helps ensure that we are the centre of our own stage – not standing in the wings or getting nudged off by someone else. However being true to yourself is sometimes hard to achieve and in stressful situations, the flip sides of our personalities often come to the fore, exposing our ‘Inner Divas’.
The ‘Inner Diva’ is a metaphor for the ‘character’ that lives inside all of us. In work situations, she comes out in moments of absolute brilliance as well as moments of absolute darkness.
There is no hiding from the Inner Diva. She appears during our ‘shine’ moments: those times when we do something outstanding or brilliant. She also emerges during our ‘shrink’ moments: when we display behaviours we would rather keep to ourselves – times when we are angry or say the wrong thing and offend people.
Often we try to suppress our Inner Diva, thinking that it will reflect negatively on us if we let her out. This is a bit like fast cooking in a pressure cooker. Once the stopper is released you get a head of steam that was not expected from looking at the still outside of the pan. Like the jet of steam from a pressure cooker, a suppressed Inner Diva will surely erupt at some point – usually in a moment of stress.
Knowing and accepting the Inner Diva is the first step to being ok with her. Allowing every part of our character to be as it is rather than trying to suppress aspects that we think others may not like or approve of is the beginning of being totally authentic in the workplace. Interestingly, when we truly accept who we are, we find that those shrink causing characteristics do not show up in quite such an inappropriate way.
Getting to know your Inner Diva
A simple way to identify your Inner Diva is to look back on your life and think about people you have been compared with in the past. What are their characteristics when they are operating in shrink and shine modes?
A more light-hearted way for you to understand your Inner Diva is to play a game with friends and colleagues to identify each other’s Inner Divas. In this moment of playfulness, a lot of truth comes out. This good-humoured research will help you clarify more about your characteristics and how others perceive you.
You might also like to draw insights by identifying famous people. Which famous personality are you most like when you are at your best and when you are at the other extreme?
Ask yourself: ‘what characteristics do people admire about this person and speak highly of?’ ‘What negative press do they get?’ How do all these opinions about her apply to me? ‘How does she handle her good and bad press?’ ‘What can I learn from her?’
Having matched yourself to a famous Diva, now think about a Diva who really inspires you and repeat the reflection.
These exercises enable you to know your positive behaviours that lead to outstanding results. With this, you begin to own your greatness rather than attribute good results to chance. You also understand more about the behaviours that make you shrink so that you can manage them more effectively.
A powerful way to manage shrink moments is to visualise what happens just before the actual shrink moment. What thoughts were you having? What was said that triggered the shrink? How did you feel just before and just after? Where did you feel it? What behaviours and actions could you now start developing that you can apply just before shrink moments arise in future? By consciously identifying and practicing these behaviours and actions, you can act on the impending shrink moment before it happens.
With increased self-awareness and insight we can increase our personal impact and influence. We can begin to understand what we have accomplished in moments of exceptional performance and also effectively manage when things are about to go south.
Knowing and understating your Inner Diva will help your star quality shine from within. Make sure to use its energy to shine in a way that communicates your contribution at work.
Once you have mastered the Inner Diva for yourself, you can use this metaphor with people at work and gently support them in identifying their Inner Divas as well as their shrink and shine moments. You will then have a powerful tool for building more effective teams that make a valuable contribution to the performance of your organisation.