By Dan Gingiss
In today’s hyper-connected digital world, it still pays to be human. Consumers have been demanding this from brands since the advent of social media, as have employees from their employers. Now a new book by personal branding experts Leonard Kim and Ryan Foland suggests that everyone can benefit from being more human.
In Ditch The Act: Reveal The Surprising Power of the Real You for Greater Success, Kim and Foland argue that presenting oneself in good faith — “imperfect and flawed but honest, resilient, and willing to learn” — people exhibit more confidence and can stand out from the competition. But in order to do that, they say, people need to “ditch the act.”
Dan Gingiss: What exactly is the “Act” you are telling people to ditch?
Leonard Kim: Think about the advice you heard over the past 5-20 years. When you apply for a job, you need to boast about all the great achievements you made in your career. You need to highlight and measure all the results you had at your job in your resume. When the CEO walks into your department, you need to be on your best behavior. When you are sharing information on your digital platforms, you need to keep it strictly about work.
Why? Why do you have to do all these things? Does it make any sense? Are we trying to impress the CEO? If we are on our best behavior when the CEO is around, is that going to get us a promotion at our job? If we’re touting our achievements on our resume, is that going to land us a job? If we’re going out there and only talking about work online, is that going to bring us more business?
If everyone is doing it because everyone was told to do it, is it going to work?
Chances are you’ve been doing this for a long time. At one point in your life, you’ve probably touted your accolades, exaggerated what you did at work or sucked up to your boss (even if it’s out of character). But what has it led to? Chances are, it’s led to anxiety, depression, a feeling of disconnectedness, impostor syndrome, not feeling like yourself, feeling like you’re lying in interviews, feeling deceptive about who you truly are and not feeling like you are your true self. Sure you might feel like a more polished version of yourself, but what is that really doing for you?
Chances are, it’s not doing much, except causing more internal conflict than ever before, which isn’t helping. And it probably hasn’t worked in getting you what you’ve set out to achieve, because you’ve already been trying this your entire life. So why keep holding up the act if it doesn’t work?
In the current state of the world, we’ve been taught to make our resumes sound amazing so we can get our dream jobs, play our highlight reels on social media so we look as if we have that perfect life and to boast our biggest achievements.
While what we are achieving is impressive, it isn’t what connects with others at the most human of levels.
What does connect at the most human level is to have a real and vulnerable conversation with another human being. Just recently, I had the most amazing flight I ever went on in my life when I flew out on Turkish Airlines to Istanbul to deliver a keynote about Ditch the Act at the INFLOW Summits. While the service on the airline was absolutely amazing and I was given more accommodations that I could have ever hoped for, what really sealed the deal with how I felt about the airline is when I met Fatih Dalogullari from Turkish Airlines PR at the welcome dinner.
We chatted, but we didn’t exchange the usual pleasantries that people share when they first meet. Instead, we held a meaningful conversation and discussed what mattered to us at a more intimate and human level. After our conversation that night, I incorporated something he had told me into the very beginning of my keynote speech. I had a deeper understanding of Turkish culture and from my conversation with Fatih, I recognized that the Turkish culture revolves around friendships. Not the common hello how are yous but those meaningful relationships that you have when you’re sharing your most vulnerable moments.
After my keynote, we spoke for a few more hours and shared things about ourselves that most Americans only do when crying in their car with the music is on full blast with their best friend. And now, we are friends.
Most people find it difficult to make friends in high places, but when you take off the mask and begin to ditch the act, you can make friends with anyone. In fact, it’s what makes Warren Buffett’s business partner, Charlie Munger, so unique. As an expert generalist, he is able to have conversations on just about any topic and it has yielded significant dividends in his business.
Gingiss: How does admitting your flaws help you get ahead in business?
Ryan Foland: I fundamentally believe that your expertise is rooted in your experience. And experience is full of flaws. The problem is that when people default to only sharing the good elements of their business experience, they are missing an opportunity to prove their expertise.
What you can do is start to let people get to know you, not only by your successes, but how you have dealt with your failures and flaws. Not everyone has had all the successes that you have had, but there is a chance that others have had similar failures, or life experiences that were challenging. When you start to share some of your stories of when things were not going right, and how you made it through, you increase your chances of becoming more relatable.
When you showcase your flaws, it also shows your confidence in who you are today, someone stronger as a result of the struggles you have faced. Sharing your flaws gives you an opportunity to share some of your life’s most important learning lessons.
It takes courage to show the real you. But when you share life’s real moments and how you (really) feel along the way, people can get to know you. And once people feel like they know you, they might like you. And if they know and like you, they might trust you. And building a reputation of trust with your friends, clients, and co-workers, is exactly how you get ahead in business.
Gingiss: What’s an example of you “ditching the act” in your career?
Foland: In addition to being a keynote speaker and brand consultant, I am also the Communications Manager at University of California, Irvine, for the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning. An example of ditching the act in my career in higher education can be seen by how I have begun to open up more to my boss and co-workers.
You have to understand that historically, I’m not very good at expressing my feelings, especially at work. When asked “how I’m doing?,” my default answer has always been some version of “great, grand, wonderful!” But in reality, things are not always great. I know that this has kept me from forming close relationships with some of the people I work with.
This past year, I’ve had some rough patches, and writing ditch the act made me realize I needed to open up more to my boss and the people I worked with. So I did. And it was incredible.
The result: we have adopted a “ditch the act” culture in our office, which means that when we talk, we go deeper than the common “office pleasantries.” If I am feeling down and out, or if there is something that is bothering me, my boss is usually the first person I talk to.
Because I trust him with sharing more than just the good, it lets him really get to know me as a person, and not just an employee. This makes me want to do my best work for him and the university.
If you are an employee and want to grow better relationships with your manager or boss, try ditching the act by opening up more often. You might be surprised at how the process will bring you closer. If you lead a team, and want to create a real connection that motivates people to be the best they can be, then share your ups and downs, showing them that you too are human, you make mistakes, and learn through failure.
You will find that sharing more than just the “surface level” of your life with co-workers, will lead to deeper relationships that lead to a more supportive and more understanding environment. And when people feel supported, they feel valued. When people feel valued they feel happy.
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