I am a dad, a brother, a cousin, a lover, an actor, an executive coach, a public speaker, a business owner, a writer. I also play many more roles. I am not the same in all these roles.
I remember when I was standing on a London stage playing Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist. The first round of auditions was an experience I will never forget. I remember the day as if it were yesterday. It was the summer of 2003.
I walked into a very long room that had large, long windows on my right. The sun was piercing through. I spent the whole day auditioning. I had had so many auditions by then.
This one I really wanted. Not one single thought stopped me. Nothing. No doubt at all. Total belief in self. Confident, emotion-filled, intuitive, and present.
Why? I had a clear intention. I knew how I wanted to be. Who I was. Why I was there. Why I was speaking. I knew my reason for being there.
It’s the only real way to the truth of leadership – to know yourself, trust yourself, and be yourself. We are all actors on the stage of life.
I act every day. You do too. Acting is the reality of doing. And doing leads to being. For if you do intentionally, i.e. with purpose, you are being. Not doing for doing’s sake. No autopilot here, baby.
You’ve heard the line, a flower doesn’t try to grow, it just grows. A bear doesn’t try to be a bear. It is a bear.
There is a huge body of research that shows that the radical acceptance of all of our emotions – even the messy, difficult ones – is the cornerstone to resilience, thriving, and being happy. I call it emotional agility.
But in my experience, it is more than just an acceptance of emotions. What is important is the words we use to describe our emotions. The things we tell ourselves. Our intentions.
If I keep telling myself I am brilliant at my Federer backhand and keep at it, I will eventually feel brilliant at it. Equally, and generally more easily, if I tell myself (consistently) I am crap at writing, I will believe I am so. I won’t want to write.
I also know that accuracy matters. In my own research, I found that words are essential. In coaching for example, asking incisive questions at the right time with the right words is imperative. NLP call it clean language or clean questions.
But we often use quick and easy labels to describe our feelings. I’m stressed is the most common one I hear. But there’s a world of difference between stress and disappointment or stress and that knowing dread of ‘I’m about to do a presentation’.
When we label our emotions accurately, we are more able to discern the precise cause of our feelings and what scientists call the readiness potential in our brain is activated, allowing us to take concrete steps. But not just any steps – the right steps for us.
We are all intention, intuition, and gratitude – even if you are not aware of it.
There is a reason for everything you do. And you show up with a certain way of thinking and feeling, a certain attitude.
You use your history, the factual part as well as the emotional decision-making part, to inform how you are at present and what you will be over the horizon.
And therefore, each time you are ‘doing’, you are behaving in a certain way. You perform. You fulfil a role. You are acting. You are making conscious choices.
We are making choices even when we think we’re not making a choice. That is a choice in and of itself. When we are present in the world, we are pure consciousness, we can make the right decisions for ourselves.
When you are standing up in front of three thousand people, in your team meeting, in the boardroom, in the canteen at work, or the kitchen at home in front of your children, be present. Breathe. When we are fully present, we make the right choices for ourselves.
We are intentionally being, and that is the reality of acting, of life. We give ourselves space to mine our history for tales that will help us sell the point.
I know you know this. But do you do it? Do you live it?
How can we learn to be more real from people who lie professionally?
Isn’t acting all about stepping onto a set and pretending to be someone else by performing rehearsed actions and reciting words written by others? What could possibly be more untruthful?
Acting is the reality of doing. In my experience, actors play a variety of roles, so do we as leaders. We play many roles. How many roles do you play each day of your life? CEO, parent, spouse, engineer (or some other profession), citizen. Do you behave differently in each role? Yes, you do. Are you therefore not being real?
You are intentionally being these roles. Beneath all these roles is the same person: you. The same is said for the actor.
And failing. And doing. And failing and doing. Which eventually leads to living intentionally. Even Yoda said it. “Try not, do. Or do not” Doing leads to being when you believe.
Doing and believing are intertwined and are the primary things necessary for succeeding. And I think that’s why when I was a jobbing actor, I thought I just had to go and do it. Believe. And be it.
There was this Russian teacher of acting, Konstantin Stanislavski…
He taught that actors on stage should experience the emotions they were portraying. So, to portray a character’s anger, for example, an actor should find real anger within him and express that in his performance. In short, he demanded that the emotion needed to be real in order to drive the action. The actor needed to know his history, his story.
What was important to him or her – what he or she stood for – asking who am I? He or she needed to be clear about purpose in every moment, in every scene. The actor needed to know what his intent was. The actor must ask, how do I want to show up?
As an actor myself, I have always been concerned with authenticity more than anything else.
So, to play something real on stage or film, an actor needs to express real emotion…
Why do we spend most of our working lives devoid of emotion? Shying away from it. Unwilling to express who we truly are – the good with the bad.
It’s a paradox of the theatre that to pretend, the actor must be real. He must show real emotion derived from his story. The actor must delve inside himself because the only way an emotion can be authentic is if it comes from within.
In my humble opinion, the same principle applies to leadership. Over the years of working with thousands of executives, the one differentiating factor is the leader’s ability to be emotional. Human. Not vulnerable. Yes, emotion-full. Their ability to bring appropriate relevant emotion to bear.
I am not suggesting becoming an emotional wreck. Imagine standing in front of your team blubbering whilst taking them through the dip in sales revenue… hilarious.
Letting the thoughts and feelings be…
And not being driven by or consumed by your thoughts and feelings: that’s the holy grail of a truthful performance on stage, on film, in leading, and for life.
You must connect with your stories, allowing the emotion in your experience to come out.
There are so many layers of us, and there are so many versions of self. I think the only way you know your true self is to know your story, know the things that are important to you, and live by those things, those values. And to do this, you need to know who you are, why you are here, and how you want to show up.
You must be able to use the emotion and feelings present in your story to connect with others. Bringing appropriate relevant emotion to bear moves you from doing into being. Letting it happen.
I am saying you must feel it.