‘Just be yourself’ is inadequate advice

“Just be yourself.” As a piece of advice, it’s common—even clichéd. But it’s far more demanding than it sounds, isn’t it? Every day, you’re flooded with stories and images of people whose personal qualities you may admire and want to emulate.

Haven’t you secretly wondered if just being yourself is really enough? After all, to succeed in a competitive world, you need to measure up to some pretty high standards.

“Be yourself,” you’ve been told. But while you’re at it, be as visionary as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. As hard-charging as Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer. As courageous as Nelson Mandela. As financially savvy as Warren Buffett. As athletic as LeBron James. As intuitive as Oprah Winfrey. As effortlessly beautiful as Halle Berry. As prescient as fashion mogul Michael Kors.

“Be yourself,” the world tells you. But this tidy little tidbit is woefully incomplete advice. “Be yourself, but measure up,” is what the world is really telling you if you want to reach your highest potential.

If you’re a leader, you’re on the receiving end of relentless and often conflicting advice about how to present yourself to the world. Perhaps you’re urged to be active on social media in order to stay visible and to engage others. But what if you’re naturally private? Maybe you’ve been prodded to display your vulnerable side in the conference room so that your staff will find you relatable. But what if you feel that exposing your personal experiences leaves you susceptible to career-limiting rumors––or even a leadership coup?

“Just be yourself” is well-meaning but inadequate guidance. It begs for more substance and measurement.

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