Be Yourself in Business (Everybody Else is Taken)
The NextWomen Career Theme
Who are you? I mean really…think about it. Who are you? Are you sure? Adaptability is a great skill to have in business – particularly when it’s the ability to modify who you are to get the most out of a situation – but sometimes that can go too far.
When you stop being yourself you develop a personal brand that can’t be trusted and that can have a serious impact on your career. (People buy people but they can suss out a fake a mile off.) Not only that, but putting time and effort into presenting a version of you that isn’t real leads to stress and eventually depression, as one of my clients found out.
When I first met Sue she was working in partner relations – a role where she needed people buying into her personal brand just to do her job. I instantly liked her because she was big and bold and ballsy but, as she shared her story, it seemed the woman I was seeing was certainly not the woman she showed other people.
In fact, she said she went out of her way to be “what my boss wants me to be” and had suppressed the real Sue her whole career – over 25 years.
That was starting to take its toll; she hated her job, had disengaged from her colleagues and was sinking into depression.
So we started working out her personal brand – the authentic one – and before we’d even got half way through, she changed. It was so dramatic, a mutual acquaintance commented on it to me, saying Sue was like a new woman. She’d rediscovered how to be herself and because of that she found people were buying into her more. She also found she was enjoying her work again because she’d stopped stressing about being someone else and started promoting the fact she had a hell of a lot to offer just as she was.
12 months later I received an email from Sue talking about an event she’d attended. She said, “A year ago I would have struggled with how to respond to such a really diverse group of people, whereas this time I was just myself: sometimes my polite and gracious self, sometimes my humorous self. I had such a good time and am so happy being able to be the authentic 'me' in any company and any situation.”
The epitome of not being yourself is the ‘woman in a man’s world’ who takes on the gender traits of her peers in an effort to level the playing field.
I remember one boss who would dress in a red suit for Board meetings and walk through the door in a really aggressive manner, ready to take on whoever disagreed with her. What her fellow directors didn’t see though was how she’d bawl her eyes out in the ladies’ room immediately afterwards as the stress of being someone she wasn’t overwhelmed her. (She’d actually started her career as a nurse and her true self preferred to nurture, not argue.)
A much more effective – and less stressful – alternative to pumping up the testosterone is simply to be yourself.
So how do you set about doing that? Firstly, you need to have a clear idea of who the real you is, defining your personal brand by spending time thinking about all the things that make you tick. You can do this by answering the following questions:
o What values do you hold strongly – the non-negotiable ones?
o What motivates you – both in who you are and what you do?
o What do you want to be known for – and how will that help your career?
o What are your strengths – the things you are hands-down the best at among your peers?
o How would you describe your personality – what sets you apart from others?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you should have a clearer idea of your personal brand. Now you need to compare this to your behaviour at work and see how closely aligned they are. To help you with this, answer the following questions:
o How far can I flex who I am and still be me?
o How consistent am I at being myself?
o Is there anyone in particular I change who I am for?
o Are there particular situations where I change who I am?
If you discover you’re spending more time being who you think people want you to be than you are being yourself, the final step is to pinpoint ways to get back to being authentic.
It might just be a few tweaks to the clothes you wear, or the language that you use, or the behaviours you have. It might be something more radical, like changing jobs entirely.
Whatever the outcome, if you’re not 100% confident about who you are, how can you be yourself? And if you can’t be yourself, how can I buy into you?
As the author of Personal Branding for Brits and founder of her own company, Spark, Jennifer Holloway knows the importance of building relationships, getting buy-in and staying on people’s radars: it’s been the key to her success. During her 15 year career in PR she promoted her personal brand every time she spoke to a journalist, getting buy-in not just to her stories, but to herself, leading to front page headlines and appearances on national TV (including The Today Programme, BBC Breakfast and Sky News). In 2008 she founded her company, Spark, to help others discover the power of their personal brands and learn how they can be even more successful…just by being themselves.
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