Actor Gary Oldman may be best known for his villainous film roles.
He played Lee Harvey Oswald in “JFK” in 1991, the title character in “Dracula” in 1992, and terrorist Ivan Korshunov in “Air Force One” in 1997. However, he’s also been cast in some heroic roles — most recently as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series, and Detective Jim Gordon in the Batman Dark Knight franchise.
Perhaps even more varied than the roles he has played are the voices Oldman uses with each character. Considered by many to be a masterful mimic, Oldman has a talent for changing his voice and accent dramatically from one role to the next.
In fact, the frequency with which the actor has changed his on-screen persona (combined, he says, with the regular influence of his American-born children) eventually caused him to forget his native British accent.
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In 2011, when Oldman signed on to play master British spy George Smiley in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” the intonation that should have been so natural to him no longer was. Ultimately, to regain his British accent, the actor hired a dialect coach. The efforts must have paid off, as Oldman earned a best actor Oscar nomination for his performance in the film.
While a vocal identity crisis won’t be a concern for most, anyone could be in danger of similar phenomena.
For instance, we’ve all heard advice to surround ourselves with people we wish to be like and to emulate those we respect. But if we spend years looking to those outside influences, we may someday struggle to remember what it is that makes us individually unique.
Essentially, if the core of who you are isn’t solid, emulating others may actually do you more harm than good. And if the behaviors and characteristics you absorb don’t gel with one another (and most importantly, with whom you are, fundamentally), even a well intentioned attempt to be better may end up making you seem disjointed and inauthentic.
The same goes for businesses. The concept of a “best practice” wouldn’t exist if companies didn’t successfully look to other organizations to find out what policies and systems are most effective.
Certainly an organization — like an individual — can learn from positive examples and take input from sources that are as or more successful than themselves.
But after years of reinventing themselves, neither an individual nor a company should have taken on so many different best practices or personality traits that they can no longer remember what makes them distinctive and unique.
Missions and values
For companies, a good way to stay grounded while still pursuing continuous improvement is to make sure each outside influence that the organization takes on fits within the company’s unique mission and values.
By building around a solid core and adding that which meshes with its firmly established ideals, an organization’s danger of risking its identity is considerably lower.
The same goes for individuals. If you have a fundamental understanding of who you are, you can change your behaviors only to the extent that such changes are cohesive with the core of who you are.
Essentially, the lesson to be learned from the mimic who eventually lost his own voice is that while continuous improvement is laudable, your focus should always be bringing out the best in yourself or in your company – rather than trying to be something you’re not.
Without keeping that goal in sight, you risk a significant break in either personal or professional operations when you eventually need to stop and strip away inconsistent outside influences to return to what may have once been a unique individual or organization.
Katie Loehrke is an editor with J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., a compliance resource firm. Loehrke specializes in employment law topics such as discrimination, privacy and social media, and affirmative action. For more information, go to www.jjkeller.com/hr