Just the two of me

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
Hand on heart now, has anyone at home ever said to you something like:

"Don't talk to me like that. You're not at school now!"? I guess they probably have. It's certainly happened to me lots, and it makes me wonder two things: first, does it happen to people in other jobs? "Don't be sarky with me, Tone, you're not answering PM's Questions now." And, more importantly, does it mean that, when you're at home, you're a different person from the one at work? Are we all like Albert Pierrepoint, the official hangman, who in the biographical film of his name, says: "When I go in there, I leave Albert Pierrepoint outside"?

On the face of it, it seems inevitable that anyone in any kind of responsible position is going to behave differently at home. In fact, there's jokey mileage to be had from assuming this not to be the case - think of Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music, parading his children to the blasts of a whistle. No, home is where the feared and austere professional loosens the waistband, kicks off the shoes and becomes a pussycat.

But surely that's all on the surface - a simple matter of obeying the rules and conventions of whichever setting you're in, whether it's home, school, pub, sports club or whatever. Underneath, in the core of your personality, there's no future in trying to be something you're not. It's too difficult to sustain it for one thing (Pierrepoint deals with exactly that pressure).

In any case, in our line of work, the people who matter - our pupils - are astonishingly good at knowing what you're trying to do. Stanford university professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton make the point very well in their excellent myth-busting book, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense. "It takes lots of effort and emotional energy to leave one's essential nature at the workplace door. And it is simply impossible for many of the best people to stifle their true selves."

Good organisations, they conclude, know this, accept people for who they are, and build on their strengths. So don't worry: if you're doing the job, supporting your team, challenging your pupils, just go with being the person you are.

And, it goes without saying, remember that the same principle of acceptance applies in your dealings with your colleagues, your pupils and their families.

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