How do we stay ‘true to ourselves’ as Leaders? Fred Rogers gives us insight

Many of us wake up each morning and jump into our  ‘work role.’  We think, “How can I be the best Leader today? ” Then, we try to fit what we think that label means.

  • We hide our quirks.
  • We undo our uniqueness.
  • We aim to fit in.
  • We try to look, talk, and act perfectly.

But what if there was another way? What if we could radically embrace who we truly are  — the whole and capable, vulnerable, and ‘real’ person we’ve been since our childhood?

Fred Rogers, one of the biggest proponents of this message, asked us to do just that.

If you grew up watching Mister Rogers, you might still be able to picture him: walking in the door. Singing a little song. Asking, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

When his show debuted in the ’60s, the program and, well, Mister Rogers himself didn’t fit the mold of successful TV. He was an older, kind man, chatting with his neighborhood pals, putting on a sweater or tying up his shoes, and, yes, sometimes having a heart-to-heart with a puppet.

He did his own thing—and that was the whole mission and message of his show: You can be liked and loved, just as you are. For the way you look, the way you talk, the way you love, and everything in between.

“You’ve made this day a special day, just by being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you—just the way you are.”
– Mister Rogers

Now, more than ever, Mister Rogers’ mission is easier said (or, in his style, sung) than done.

How do we love ourselves fully when we’re constantly bombarded with ideas on how we should look, talk, work, and lead?   How can we radically be ourselves?

The new documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (in theaters on Friday, June 8), goes deep into the vision of Fred Rogers—and it offers insight into how he stayed true to himself.

Here, a few tips straight from the most authentic man on TV:

  • You are unique – embrace your quirks!   Think about what makes you different from other leaders or co-workers. Your difference is your hidden strength.
  • Be REAL. Be vulnerable. I used to worry about sounding too earnest, too vulnerable, or too honest in the things I wrote and shared. I’d think, “Who really wants to listen to this, anyway?”   But, surprisingly, I’ve learned that whenever I share the things that feel honest and true to me, the more positively people react. Vulnerability attracts vulnerability.  If you start to care less about what other people think, you’ll find that the people you care about will stick around for the long term.
  • Don’t strive for perfection – but for authenticity. You can choose to be perfect. Or, you can choose to be authentic. It’s very hard to be both. As he famously said: “You don’t ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you.” All you have to do is be yourself.
  • Relationships with our teams and co-workers are important.  Fred Rogers said, “Mutually caring relationships require kindness and patience, tolerance, optimism, joy in the other’s achievements, confidence in oneself, and the ability to give without undue thought of gain.”
  • A little kindness can make a difference.  Do you lead with kindness and empathy?  Those are not weak approaches to leadership.  In our world today, we need a little more kindness and love in the workplace.  In the Senior Housing industry, our care teams and our families and residents need to know they are safe and cared for.  These are courageous and powerful leadership characteristics.
  • Be Yourself. Be Good.  Do Good.

“There are three ways to ultimate success. The first is to be kind.  The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”
– Mister Rogers

Mr. Rogers challenges us to continually evolve to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be – our true authentic selves.

Below is a 2.5-minute trailer for the documentary that will come out in the United States on Friday, June 8th.  I am looking for a theater near me today.   I am grateful for the lessons and the life of Mr. Fred Rogers.


About the author: Jean Garboden is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

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