"Hello, I am a successful business leader of a multimillion-dollar company for whose strategic growth I have been solely responsible."
That's how someone introduced himself to an executive leadership group. The group's response:
"That's great. Now tell us the version you wouldn't post to a Facebook group."
Cue the embarrassment.
They were right, though--as a leader, you are expected to craft the perfect faux response, the classic social media "Hi, I'm awesome!" introduction. No one actually wants to hear that. They don't necessarily care about boastful accolades, and they don't want to hear about how great you are (or think you are)--instead, people respond to authenticity.
Here was the impressive re-do: "Hello, I've made mistakes and failed a lot. I am always learning through my failures, which is helping me grow as a leader. My goal is to be one percent better tomorrow than I am today."
I was impressed with the authenticity of the re-do, but many of us would have a hard time pivoting so quickly. So why do we struggle so much to do so?
Social media users number 3.96 billion people. The way we communicate today is different from yesterday. It constantly changes. Interacting online has altered the way we interact in person, even when we don't realize it.
I think it's fair to say that everyone's first instinct might be to feed that leadership group a canned response. We've normalized half-baked, robo-responses. Worse, we use social media as a faux window into our lives. How many times have you scrolled through your Instagram feed to find nothing but sunshine and rainbows?
Exotic vacations, promotions, birthdays ... Look, I'm not saying we need to post every doom and gloom event in our lives, but it sure is nice when someone admits they've had better days. It's refreshing to see posts about challenges we all struggle with and to be able to celebrate the successes of overcoming those challenges.
And it's OK to not know what to say sometimes.
Demonstrate authenticity and empathy
Perhaps we struggle with authenticity and empathy because we simply aren't used to it anymore. Maybe, for our interactions to be genuine, we need to return to the basics.
Reach for vulnerable responses
Tell your story. Throw away those robotic interactions in favor of something with more meat--something that's real. Maybe that means it includes an "um" here or there. Maybe it's a little bit tongue-in-cheek. Two examples of an elevator pitch introduction:
"Hello, I am an expert in my field and CEO of an Inc. 5000 fastest-growing company for the last three years. We use our talents to help businesses grow their online presence."
"Hello, I have faced many challenges in leadership and have learned through my failures. I am grateful for the success of the company, which is a result of our talented, dedicated leadership team."
Which one feels more authentic? Which introduction do you relate to, and who would you rather have coffee with to learn more about how they got to where they are?
Ask questions of others
Take a page out of active listening. If you feel like someone gives you a canned response, help them out by asking questions and digging deeper into their story. Encourage them to be authentic through the questions you ask. Sometimes we just need another person to challenge us to present our true selves. That's what my leadership group did for me, and it paid off.
Seek out more in-person interactions
Obviously, this was an obstacle last year, but as things continue to skew normal, there's something to be said for seeking out in-person interactions. Because of the kind of digital access we have these days, and as a result of spending more than a year in a restrictive environment, it can often feel easier (and more comfortable) to keep our interactions digital.
Plus, a lot of us have no choice, particularly if the company is remote or has multiple global locations. This doesn't mean we can't still have in-person interactions though, and they don't even need to be work-related. Engage a stranger in conversation, introduce colleagues to one another, encourage story sharing at the dinner table, join a workout group--there are endless options for interacting with people.
Just be you, the real you, and remember: no one wants to hear your social media intro.