Badass is not a word you would expect to see while paging through a Harvard Business School course list. But take a look through the school’s latest offerings and you’ll find it there, right next to the name of professor Francesca Gino.
The short course, taught by Gino and her colleague Frances Frei, delivers just what its provocative name promises: lessons in how to be unapologetically and boldly yourself at work. And the first of its most important lessons, Gino recently explained to The Harvard Gazette, is rethinking the concept of authenticity.
1. Swap being authentic for being a badass.
Which isn’t to say authenticity at work is bad. In fact, as Gino outlines in the interview, a huge stack of studies show being true to yourself actually helps you get ahead in your career (several prominent super-achievers agree). The problem with authenticity is that people often misunderstand what it means.
“It’s often assumed that if you’re authentic, it means that you’re not filtering. And that is not the case. You’re being thoughtful about it,” she says. That means no wearing pajamas to work just because you like them.
Instead, authenticity means that “in moments where you and I are in a meeting with others, and everybody’s suggesting X and I fundamentally believe that we should be doing Y, I feel the courage to speak my mind,” Gino explains. “Or, if I like to dress in a certain way, that I don’t tone it down simply because I’m the only one dressing that way.”
“Being a badass,” she feels, better captures the idea that you should boldly bring your full self to work and turn the volume on your personal strengths up to 11.
2. It doesn’t require any particular personality.
When most of us hear the word badass, we picture someone flamboyant, self-assured, and creative. But Gino stresses you don’t have to be Mick Jagger or Steve Jobs to make being the office badass a feasible dream.
“We can learn to bring out the badass in ourselves,” Gino insists. The class is designed to help people reflect on whatever makes them uniquely great and let that shine through, as well as get rid of mental barriers that stand in the way of authenticity.
“Are you first impacting your own way of thinking by telling yourself, ‘I don’t see any gay women as senior faculty at HBS, so I don’t expect to be promoted?'” Gino offers as an example of problematic thinking. Many people need “to reframe and rework their expectations … so that they’re a little bit bolder,” she feels.
3. You don’t need to be the boss to be a badass.
You might think that true authenticity is reserved for those at the top of the office food chain, but Gino insists that’s just because you don’t fully understand the concept. Being a badass isn’t about imposing your ideas on others; it’s about bringing your best self forward. And that’s possible for everyone.
“I think that we often associate the idea of a [badass] as a person who’s loud and comes through and squishes others, but that’s not the idea,” she says. “The reason why we used it in the course title is to say it requires courage. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be respectful of other people’s views. And we should bring our ideas forward in a way that they are part of the conversation, but not necessarily stated as ours is the only voice that we should listen to.”
The overall lesson here is don’t walk into the office today meek and mild. Be unafraid to be yourself, speak your views, and even let your own wonderful weirdness shine through. That might feel scary, but no less an authority than Harvard Business School suggests it’s likely to make you more successful.