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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Jul 31, 2020


You’ve heard the well-known Oscar Wilde quote “Be yourself - everyone else is already taken”. Yet we often tempted to be something that we’re not. But the research shows us to impress, do less.



Hello and welcome to episode 88 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week discover that a great way to impress is to do less.

You’ve heard the well-known Oscar Wilde quote “Be yourself - everyone else is already taken”. Yet we often tempted to be something that we’re not. We often try to present ourselves the way we think others want to see us, rather than as we truly are.

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. Research shows that, when given the opportunity, 66% of people try to impress by catering to the other person’s needs. In addition, 71% thought catering would be the best approach. Research also demonstrates that trying to impress is precisely the wrong strategy, especially when it comes at the expense of being ourselves.

This is particularly the case when we don’t know much about the people we’re trying to impress. That could include a presentation, a job interview, a sales pitch or a range of other scenarios.

To explore this further researchers set up a scenario where people were applying for a fictional job. Participants in the study were then placed into one of two groups. The first group was encouraged to be themselves - to try to be genuine and authentic. The second group was encouraged to try to position themselves in the way they thought aligned with the interviewer’s expectations and interests - to cater to their needs. Those who were encouraged to just be themselves were 26% more likely to be hired than those who tried to become something they weren’t in an effort to impress.

A second study was conducted at a forum where entrepreneurs were pitching ideas to a panel of judges. The entrepreneurs who were genuine in their approach were three times more likely to be selected by judges than those who tried to cater to what they thought the judges wanted to hear.

Why is being yourself better than trying to cater to what you think people want to hear? Researchers suggest three main reasons:

  1. It’s cognitively hard to not be yourself - we’re not thinking at our best
  2. It’s emotionally draining to not be yourself - we’re not as aware or in control of our emotions
  3. We’re anxious because we can’t fully anticipate what the other person may want or expect - we’re putting effort into guessing at their needs and interests

Taken together it’s a recipe for poor performance.

Being yourself makes the best impression. Guessing at others’ needs is far less effective.

Now the next step is if we can genuinely take others’ interests into account. To do that, we need to ask people about their needs and interests. Then we don’t need to guess at their needs, and we can still be ourselves. We can be genuine, informed and empathetic. That sounds much better than guessing at others’ needs and pretending to be something we’re not.

I hope you found that helpful. As always, the research referenced in this episode is available in the show notes at our website -

While you’re there, why not check out our upcoming webinar. Each month we run a free 45 minute webinar on a wide range of topics. If you can’t make the session, you will receive a link to a recording to watch at your own time.

Have a great week, and I look forward to speaking with you again next week.



To be or not to be your authentic self? Catering to others’ preferences hinders performance. Francesca Gino, Ovul Sezer, Laura Huang, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Volume 158, May 2020, Pages 83-100