A leader is steady, firm, decisive, unwavering. Never let 'em see you sweat, always have an answer.
[The Way We Work]
My name is Dan, I'm a partner at a global creative consultancy. But there's another side to me: Carrie Dragshaw, the character I created on Instagram. As I thought about my double life, I couldn't help but wonder ... When your true self is a little nontraditional, how much of it can you really bring to the office? For some of us is authenticity off-limits?
For the first 10 years of my career, I thought there was one way to be a leader: decisive and serious. But that's not me. So I'd put on basically office drag to fit the role: I'd talk in a deeper voice, try to hold in my hand motions. I'm someone who gets really excited about things, so I'd temper that. I had this little voice in my head, telling me, "You're too gay, too feminine, too flamboyant." I had one well-intentioned adviser who said, "Everyone knows you're gay. And that's great. But you don't need to beat them over the head with it."
Cut to: me in a tutu, for Halloween 2016. I dressed up as my favorite TV show character, Carrie Bradshaw, thinking my friends would get a kick out of it. And then, things got crazy. The post went viral, and at first it was pure fun. I started getting these incredible messages from people about how happy it made them, how it encouraged them to be their authentic selves. And I started to think, maybe this is the time to tell that little voice in my head to just shut up and let myself be me. But then things got a little too big.
Carrie Dragshaw was everywhere — In the "New York Post", "US Weekly" — and I got terrified: "What would my bosses think? Would my coworkers still respect me as a leader? What would my clients think?" I thought I was going to have to get a different job. But then, something happened, something small. I got a text from my boss, it wasn't long, it just said, "Wow, Cosmo!" With a link to an article that had just gone up about me. And it let me put that little, scared voice away and just be excited about this whole new world, rather than freaked out.
That's the power of one person, sometimes all it takes is one ally to make you feel comfortable. And my coworkers started acting differently. They became more open, more playful with me, it was as if knowing this other side of me gave them permission to be more of themselves as well. I thought that openness and vulnerability would actually decrease my standing with my team. But it's done the opposite.
Two years in, I never could have imagined that this part of me would not just be embraced, but could actually help my career. Now, I'm lucky. I work in New York City, in an office where creativity is valued and I was already pretty established in my career when all of this started. Maybe that's you, maybe it isn't. But all of this has taught me so much about just the importance of bringing your whole self to work. And it's really challenged my own misperceptions about what it takes to be successful.
There's no one kind of way to be a leader. It's about finding your strengths and finding ways to amplify them. Before, if a meeting was hard, I'd put on my perfect leader mask. Now, I can say, "Gosh, that was frustrating." We can talk about challenges and struggles in an open way, rather than everybody pretending that they're fine until it's too late. Concealing an identity takes work. Think of all the wasted energy spent pretending, wishing you were someone different. What's most interesting to me, though, is that in this big study of covering, 93 percent of those who say they're doing it also believe their organization values inclusion. So clearly, our workplaces and all of our strange inner voices have a long way to go on acceptance.
There's a big difference between adapting and disguising. And I think I learned that a little late. Personally, I'm taking all of this as a call to be the ally who, like my boss did for me, lets people know that it's OK to open up. If you're gay, or proud of your ethnic background, or have a disability or are deeply religious, see what it's like being your full self at work. You might be pleasantly surprised.