Plastic personality

If the authentic personalities of leaders are a complete turn off for employees, should internal communicators help them to curate a more acceptable online or virtual persona, which may be inauthentic or downright fake? A plastic personality. 

Have you ever worked with an organisational leader who wanted to create a more acceptable or credible persona to become more palatable to employees? If you were asked to help them, what would your advice as an internal communicator be?

We live in an age where authentic leadership, founded in authentic communication, is seemingly a valuable commodity prized by all internal communicators and workforces alike.

During the pandemic many of us shared stories about how the shift to largely digital communication between leaders and remote working employees democratised internal communication. Forcing leaders to drop their facades and reveal their true selves, in a situation where the theatre and stage management of pre pandemic leadership communication was simply inappropriate.

But what if the authentic personalities of leaders are a complete turn off for employees, or downright distasteful. Should we help them to curate a more acceptable online or virtual persona, which may be inauthentic or downright fake? A plastic personality. 

The rise of the personal brand

There is a lot of noise these days about personal branding, much of it driven by the culture of celebrity which manifested itself back in the 1980s, grew exponentially in subsequent decades and was normalised by the social media and reality TV phenomena. It is now apparently a ‘must have’ for many, particularly for those who are active on social media.

However, the concept of the personal brand is not that new. It seemingly dates back to the 1930s as a way to make money from personal services or from the sale of ideas. Nowadays, we can probably add reputation, credibility and likeability to the list of reasons to create and curate a personal brand, for those who think they are a necessity.  

The rise of the personal brand raises an interesting question for internal communicators. Should we ever help leaders to develop and maintain a personal brand inside organisations?

For me, I think the answer is no because of the potential mismatch between authentic leadership communication and leaders having a personal brand. However, close the ‘brand’ was to the leader’s personality, there would never be complete alignment. Something would have to be left out, or obscured, because people and their personalities are complex. The brand would never be an authentic reflection of their true self.

For that reason, there is a dissonance that I would be uncomfortable with as a professional internal communicator. For sure we should help leaders to communicate better, whatever their personality type and style, but I would draw the line at taking that a step further into helping them to create some kind of alter ego.

It just wouldn’t be ethical to mislead employees into thinking a leader was something they were not.

A new authenticity

I can’t say that I’ve ever been able to see the point of personal branding, beyond the obvious vanity and narcissism of celebrities and their commercial motivations. For me, brands are for tins of beans, shops and the clothes I put on my back. They are not for people.

There are many good reasons for organisational leaders not to pretend to be someone they are not.

Here’s one, from a quote I read the other day.

‘Stop trying to impress people by being someone you’re not, because in the end you’ll lose yourself’

I think this is eminently applicable not just to organisational leaders, but to the rest of us.

Some in our industry seem to think that, in the wake of the pandemic, organisational communication is going to be all about authentic and open leadership underpinned by empathy. If this is true, then there is no place in that for the plastic personality.  

As we all know, plastic is a disposable commodity which is not universally recyclable.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay 

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