Red Band Presence

Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer is on the road, promoting her new Fox television series Red Band Society.

As I catch an interview with Ms. Spencer on New York Fox News, I am captivated by a brief bit of chit-chat.

It’s about Octavia Spencer. It’s about presence. It’s about how we show up.

You didn’t start off as an actress, the interviewer prods.

No, I was a PA [production assistant] on movie sets, Ms. Spencer explains. On every set I worked on, the director at some point would say to me “You’re so animated” and ask me to read for a part. I always declined.

And then you worked on ‘A Time to Kill,’ the interviewer prods again.

Yes, with Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock. It’s the first time I was working as a PA and the director didn’t ask me to read. Ms. Spencer chuckles. I was upset. So I went up to him, and I asked.

A ‘Time to Kill’ became Ms. Spencer’s first acting job.

I was just myself when I was a PA, Ms. Spencer explains.

Let’s translate.

A PA is supposed to be invisible. Don the let-me-be-polite cloak. A please-don’t-notice me presence. Hide in the professional role. 

Ms. Spencer’s didn’t hide.

Her behavior transcended her professional role.

Here’s a sad workplace truth: 90% of us do not show up at work like Ms. Spencer did.

We make ourselves invisible even when the job title says “please don’t.”

We’re cautious when we’re urged to have an opinion.

We play small in our professional role when no one has told us to play small.

We hide.

We don’t mean to. We just do it. The more senior our role, the more likely it is that we hide.

A lot.

We show up as less than who we really are.

We have been wired by insidious narratives about what it means to look and act professional. These often non-conscious narratives tend to define our behavior in pretty much every professional situation.

I was just myself.

In a professional role, that is not so easy to do.

Especially when we have a rough edge or two that may need tempering, we don’t know which facets of our self to show. So we show nothing.

I was just myself.

In Ms. Spencer’s case, this proved an asset. Which parts of your self do you bring to work? The asset-self? Or do you take cover with the 90% tribe of deficit-selves?

I lobby for a bit more Red Band Presence.

Let’s translate, once more.

Our Red Band Presence is the self that hides less often. Doesn’t take on other people’s fears about public display. Second-guesses only rarely. Refuses to live in professional-role-jail.

It is your asset-self.

The moment you show up with your Red Band Presence, your professional impact will accelerate. And work will be a heck of a lot more fun.

Ms. Spencer knows.