by Marshall Goldsmith
“It’s the avenue, I’m taking you to, 42nd Street!”
The singers sing, the dancer’s dance and the actors act. On Broadway there is always something wonderful on stage. In many ways, Broadway is the definition of “performance.”
I am inspired by great theater. Every night, great performers pour their hearts into each production. Some have headaches, some have family problems, but it doesn’t really matter. When it’s show time, they give it all they have. Although it might be the thousandth time an actor has performed the part, it might be the first time the customer sitting in the fourth row has seen the production. To the true performer, every night is opening night.
Like great actors, inspirational leaders sometimes need to be consummate performers. When they need to motivate and inspire people, they do it. It doesn’t matter if they have a headache. They do whatever it takes to help their organization succeed. When they need to be “on,” like the Broadway stars, it’s show time.
One of the greatest leaders I know is Frances Hesselbein, the former executive director of the Girl Scouts of America and now chairman of the Leader to Leader Institute. I am not alone in my assessment of her talents. Peter Drucker once noted that she was perhaps the most effective executive he had ever met. As a tribute to her leadership skills, President Clinton awarded Frances with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award that can be given to a U.S. civilian.
Frances is also one of my best friends. Like all humans, Frances faces the same problems we all face. Just like you and I, she has lived through health problems, tragedies with friends and family issues. Like all great professionals, when it is time for Frances to work, she is always there. I have seen her turn down an invitation from the U.S. president to give a talk (at no fee) for a non-profit organization in a small town. When she makes a commitment, if it is humanly possible to be there, she delivers. It doesn’t matter that a “better deal” came along later. She not only makes an appearance, she is up, she is positive, she is inspirational and she gets the job done.
Until recently, I always had a dilemma. As an executive educator, who helps successful leaders achieve a positive change in behavior, I, in a way, teach people how to act. When is acting part of being a professional? When is acting part of being a phony? I want to help leaders learn how to be great performers, but I never believe that they should be phonies or unreal. How can I, as a coach, understand the difference?
My client Ted helped me answer this question. I worked with him for a year, trying to help him fit in a corporate culture where he really didn’t belong. At the end of the year, I finally said, “Why don’t you leave? You are so miserable that you are starting to depress me!”
He finally saw the light, left the company and is now doing something he loves. There was nothing wrong with the company. There was nothing wrong with Ted. He just didn’t belong there. It wasn’t him.
If you are in the right job in the right company, and you are learning how to perform to the best of your ability, you are being a true professional. If you are in the wrong job in the wrong company and you learn to act so that you can better fit in, you are just being a better phony. It still isn’t you out there.
Today Ted is a lot happier. He spends his time thinking up creative ideas in his new company, and he’s having a ball. He is not only adding value for the company, he is also adding value for the world.
Think about your job. As a professional, is your job consistent with the person that you really want to be?
If the answer is “yes”, be like the great actor. Be like Frances Hesselbein. Put on a great show. Be the consummate professional. Learn to keep developing your ability to perform, so you can get even better than you are today. If you love what you do, a great coach might even help you get better.
If the answer is “no”, change jobs as soon as you can. Why bother to become a better phony? Even if you do get a coach and learn to modify your behavior, it won’t count for much. Why? It won’t really be you.