Fulfilling Role Demands Without Compromising Values

Chris Edmonds is the founder and CEO of the Purposeful Culture Group, which he launched after a 15-year career leading and managing teams.
Sometimes people choose very distinct personas – that is, they choose to play a particular role for a period of time (or even their whole careers). Maintaining a persona involves:

  • Making a choice to act in a particular way in a situation
  • Masking your true self
  • Acting fundamentally different than who you really are – at your core
  • Spending energy that you could have spent, instead, in engaging in activities better aligned with your own and your organization’s core values

That’s exhausting!

Recently I observed a few meetings where the people were present stood on opposing sides of issues. In one case, the members of one side chose to disconnect, to not engage. Their limited involvement in the proceedings centered around their leader, who acted as the puppet master. It was amazing to watch the members of that group watched their leader closely to get clues about how to act, whether to speak, whether to share ideas or pose solutions.

In another case, the members of one side took a very active role. They engaged in the activities. They shared their experiences, their thoughts, even their hopes. Their leader was simply another team member who was equally participative and engaged. People were free to dialogue with no strings attached.

If the roles you play or the personas you present exhaust you, you might be acting in conflict with your true self, with your personal purpose and values.

In their meeting, the flow of ideas, the understanding of others’ perceptions, and the team’s active involvement helped move both sides towards potentially breakthrough solutions that everyone could support.

The leaders of these two teams chose very different personas. Just like a talented actor or actress, these leaders immersed themselves in their “character.” They each played their role as they felt their role should be played.

In the first case, the role inhibited progress towards a mutually beneficial solution. In the second case, the role enabled that progress.

It can get more complex. I’ve seen people play multiple roles in their organization – with each role requires a different persona. One would have to work hard to keep the personas consistent – acting one way on a project team, for example, but acting quite differently on your own functional team. It requires effort to keep the personas straight, to remember which role you’re playing in which situation.

Why do we engage in these personas? There are dozens of reasons. The persona might be one a parent played, or it might be one your boss demands of you. Your organizational culture can place role demands on you. If you live in a cut-throat, “I win, you lose” culture, you may have to embrace a cut-throat persona to survive.

If the roles you play or the personas you present exhaust you, you might be acting in conflict with your true self, with your personal purpose and values. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

How can you be yourself? Start by being intentional about your true core by defining your personal servant purpose, your “reason for being” on this earth, and your personal values and behaviors.

Once you clarify your servant purpose and values, it is less likely that you will invest time in roles or personas that are contrary to your servant purpose and values.

Here’s a road to sanity in a world of personas:

  • Examine what choices you are making, and why
  • Examine whether those choices align with your core values or your organization’s core values
  • Choose to be yourself
  • Reduce the energy invested in misaligned roles or personas.

Then you will be the best self you can be, in your family, your workplace, and your community.

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