I have been thinking about this topic for some time, but was inspired to actually write it after watching an episode of Madam Secretary recently. It was an older episode (I'm still trying to catch up), but for those of you familiar with the show, it was a flashback to the moment when Dalton and Russell met, before Dalton was president. At the end of their meeting, Russell says something like, "you need to start acting like yourself instead of what you think a politician is supposed to act like."
Prior to that episode, I had been reflecting on my observations of how people act when you give them a title or responsibility. The easy comparison here is when you give an individual a manager title, but let's come back to that.
Another good example is if you've ever led a brainstorming session. One of the best ways to lead it is to allow the group to share whatever is on their mind with respect to the topic. There is no idea too wild, and no thought too provocative. Just think it and say it. However, without that instruction (and some provocation), I've seen the brightest people come up with the same old tired ideas and solutions. Why?
It's because without the freedom to think freely, we resort to trying to think like we think we're supposed to think (did you follow that?). Or we place non-existent (or unnecessary) obstacles and barriers, or create scenarios that put us in frame of mind that limit what we can do.
It's also why new managers, who appear to be your best and brightest, continue with the status quo. "Now that I'm a manager, I guess I should act like one." Which means I will mirror what I've seen other seemingly successful managers do. If the managers they are mirroring were really good, it's not the worst thing in the world, but if they were bad, that can be detrimental. However, neither option explores all that they are truly capable of bringing to the role, and the truth is, you're not an actor.
You are not a successful person because you followed in the footsteps of those who came before you. And you certainly won't experience the level of success you are capable of if you strive to fit whatever the perception of a role is. Understand what the expectations are, but be unique to who you are when you execute. Remove barriers, look at how things would be if you could rebuild it, and don't be afraid to buck the system. Greatness relies on conflict.
Cliches are cliches for a reason, so get out of your own way, and be yourself.