Are You The Real Deal?

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(pic compliments of http://www.dreamstime.com)

Here’s a question:  When asked at a job interview what your weaknesses are, how do you answer?  I’m a workaholic and I cannot seem to switch off?  I’m too trusting and people tend to take advantage of the fact?  ‘I’m a perfectionist and therefore unpopular amongst colleagues.’  It’s almost expected to hear a positive trait sneakily turned inside out to make you look good.  Would you dare say I was not really a team player but I am working on it as I acknowledge my shortfall and understand the benefits of working in a team?  Oh, the horror!  How about “I’m not a morning person but I have started a morning routine recently that has got me to enthusiastically jump out of bed with glee!”

We love dropping clichés when the situation calls for it:  ‘Be yourself’, ‘Keep it real’, ‘Love yourself or nobody else will,’ ‘Be the real deal’ but are you taking heed or mindlessly throwing up drivel?

It is certainly not a novel idea or some ‘secret’ to success.  Authenticity was studied from the time of the ancient Greeks.  It was Socrates who claimed that the way to happiness is to discover your ‘true self’.   Abraham Maslow, in his Hierarchy of Needs, puts forth the notion that one of the ways to reach self-actualisation (the highest point that a human being strives for) is self-acceptance.

Yet people still struggle with exposing their true essence.  Why?

Baggage.  And we all have it.  Everyone has an element of their personality or past experiences, even present situations that they are not particularly proud.  Your attitudes and perceptions today are the product of your past.  And thanks to that, our insecurities surge, resulting in the attempt to be someone else – someone that (you think) will be more accepted.  We humans are social beings.  The instinct to be socially accepted or conform is stronger than that of displaying our uniqueness to the world.  In fact, people are so afraid to display any human weakness that they would rather take on a different persona or even lie to avoid others discovering their true selves.

Yet one of the traits that stand out in highly successful leaders is the courage to be true to themselves.  Within the entertainment industry, a rags to riches story is respected and even attracts a larger following.  Leaders like President Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama transformed their humble beginnings into the highest hierarchy of leadership with a worldwide following because they remained real throughout their remarkable growth.  The magic of self-acceptance is that people are more engaged with those who are real and vulnerable, because it is relatable.  Did you perhaps suffer with a learning disability as a child?  This attracts more admiration because people appreciate that you would have had to work harder than those who did not have those life experiences….and besides nobody likes a fake.

The first step to being true to yourself is knowing yourself.  As a child, you were the truest form of yourself.  If you didn’t like the taste of something, you spat it out.  You didn’t pretend to like it because another child enjoyed it.  The saddest part of growing up is losing that self-trust and as we transition from adolescence to adulthood, we learn how to dismiss our beliefs and values and become what parents, society, or the boss expects of us.  We fire ourselves from the job of living and hire a stranger.  If you will not hire yourself, how can you expect others to?  Here are 3 ways to help you regain your authenticity easily and naturally:

  1. Observe yourself in conversations or in meetings. Do you take on the personality of the group? Speak as they do?  Use slang and profanity if they are?  It is said in the study of body language that a degree of mimicking a person or group you are with actually makes you more likeable so it’s quite okay to adapt to your surroundings.  If it is a fun event and you are required to let your hair down a bit, you need not be a stick in the mud but if you find yourself becoming someone that is not instinctively you, it’s a fail!  Do not discount your innermost values because you are in a team or an environment that does not share your beliefs.
  2. Make a list of negative events in your past that you are not comfortable sharing with others.  Next to it, write down how those events have shaped you positively or what lessons were learned from it.  Were you bullied as a child and thus easily able to spot people who intimidate others?  Now you are changing the negative event into a positive one.  Read it again but this time from a different perspective.  You may feel a little differently about sharing your life lessons after this exercise.
  3. Think like a child again. Remember the elation and satisfaction you got from completing your first 100 piece puzzle? Well, we never out-grow this feeling of self-accomplishment.  This holiday, start a project that is yours alone – completing it will give you a sense of triumph.  Choose a personal stimulus:  a DIY project, build something from scratch, or start a vegetable garden.  In the process of a personal mission, you will re-discover yourself, be rid of an adult limiting view and gain insight into your strong and weak points.  Project managers will agree that if you want to really know the true nature of a person, work with them on a project.  The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard offers the theory that when a person despises themselves and attempts to be someone different, one abandons their true self and the result is despair.  He further suggests that if you do not know who your ‘self’ is, the result is an artificial happiness – or ‘ignorance is bliss’.  Therefore, when you start the journey to discovering yourself, a level of despair is expected but remain persistent on your project and on your journey.  As you become more self-aware, the despair decreases until true bliss is reached.

If you visit a company’s website, their unique values are usually proudly published in bold.  I have found many of these to be just sugary words which many do not even remember in their daily operations or cannot recall within 30 seconds.  Many companies are disappointingly losing their ability to be authentic.  But wait, companies are made up of people so shouldn’t the buck stop with us?  We need to restore ourselves so that we can become better employers, better leaders and stronger workforces.

I love diversity.  Nothing is as stimulating as learning from the unique experiences of others.  Your individual story is your gift to everyone who knows you.  This year I coached an employee who was gang raped and left for dead at the age of 10 and has never felt worthy of anything since.  After relating her story and tirelessly working on self-acceptance, she has gone from feeling completely worthless to delivering talks to abused women at her church.  I am so pleased to say that she is now the happiest she has ever been, about to become a mum and has become so sought after in business that a competitor has recently headhunted her.  A big loss indeed but I was delighted for her.  She has taught me more than I could have ever reciprocated and I am richer for it.

The lesson is simple:  Get real and the results will show!

Happy Holidays!

If You Don’t Take Care of Your Personal Brand, Everyone Else Will

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The concept of personal branding is a hot topic at the moment.  It may be defined as the way in which you market yourself to the world.  We all possess a personal brand.  Whether you have knowingly developed it or not, everyone around you has an impression of who you are – their impression.  The challenge with managing your brand is that no matter how realistically you portray yourself to the world, you have no control over the perceptions of others.  Perceptions are potentially one of the most damaging effects on your personal brand.

You see, our brains are wired to take short cuts to reasoning.  More than reason, we are before anything else made up of emotions.  We habitually take the effortless route of creating a quick emotional picture that makes sense in our brain formed from previous patterns and experiences.   At other times, the information provided may be limited so we leap to a hasty conclusion about someone.  This irrational judgement is referred to as cognitive fallacies or biases.  Understanding cognitive biases can give you the upper hand to managing and protecting your brand.   There are scores of biases that can interfere with the accurate judgement of people and situations.  Let’s take a look at the more popular ones.

The Halo Effect:

The assumption that someone is competent due to being physically drawn to that person.  It is founded on attractive qualities identified at the first meeting.  Regardless of negative information that is received afterwards, the observer concludes that the individual possesses only good qualities.  So what does this mean to a personal brand developer?  Simplified, it means ‘first impressions are lasting.’  Most friends will tell you that their first impressions of you were different from the truth.  Fortunately, friends will have time to get to know the real you but what about potential clients and employers?  All you have is the first meeting and you must make it count!  Plan your introduction, dress for the occasion, maintain eye contact (every 5 seconds – be careful not to stare), be polished, take an interest in what people have to say and always smile.

Reciprocity Bias:

There is a human tendency to reciprocate actions that have been done to us – ‘return the favour’ so to speak.  In its reverse, if you harm someone the impulse would be to take revenge.  People in a Sales environment use this partiality to their advantage.  If you receive a free sample of a product in a store, you might be inclined to purchase the product regardless of its cost or if the item is even needed.  Similarly, If 2 car salesmen are selling the same type of vehicle, you will feel a sense of obligation to support the salesman who drove the vehicle out to you for a test drive or threw in a freebie with the deal.  Conversely, if the one did not return your call on time, you might support the other as an act of ‘payback’.  Noble deeds in business never go unnoticed.   Selfish deeds never go unnoticed.  People reciprocate behaviour so act wisely to build a likeable brand.

Stereotyping:

The expectation that an individual belonging to a certain group possesses certain characteristics without having any prior knowledge or information about the individual.  Negative stereotyping are derogatory due to discrimination against ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical attributes however positive stereotyping can be just as harmful on your brand.  Imagine someone stereotyping you as a math expert because of your ethnic background.  This irrational expectation will cause you to appear lesser than smart upon meeting while your actual proficiencies are disregarded.   The best way to counteract the effects of stereotyping is to adopt a zero-tolerance policy.  If you let a trivial remark slide, you are unconsciously giving the approval to take it to the next level.  One who engages in stereotyping will always think it is acceptable to joke or talk about a group that is not present.  Given half a chance, you can be assured that this individual is stereotyping you as well.  I say keep your friends close, and bigots closer.  Instead of a hostile response, educate the individual in a non-threatening manner.  Stereotyping is underpinned by ignorance.  Also, do not permit the prejudice of another group in your presence.  Often I come across people defending their own group but not others.  If you make a stand, it should be for all types of stereotyping.  Remember though, every rule has an exception – if a man and a woman are present and the man is requested to carry a heavy box, it is merely an innocent observation that the man is perhaps stronger in this case.  If the requestor consistently undermines women, it denotes stereotyping.

It is not surprising that the companies who have the most valued brands are also the most successful – personal branding is no different.   In career advancement, your brand is the key differentiator between you and a competing candidate who has the same experience and qualifications as you do.

Are the perceptions that others have of you aligned to who you really are?  Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com sums it up best:  “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”  Short of eavesdropping, you may want to consider actively managing the perceptions others have of you.

When & How to Say ‘No’ in The Workplace

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Over pleasing is as much an unfruitful attribute as idleness. Wherever you lie on the scale between these two extremes, you would have found yourself in the dreaded situation where you would need to cough up the word ‘no’.  In an office situation, the dilemma becomes a lot more complicated.

Are you committing a corporate crime by turning down a supervisor?  And what is the most non-offensive way to do it?  Why would someone rather work themselves to the bone than declining more work?  Some are afraid of disappointing colleagues or becoming unpopular.  Many say ‘yes’ to avoid potential conflict.  The key is not to perceive it as conflict.  It’s not necessary to send yourself on a guilt-trip either.  It is perfectly fine to turn someone down as long as it is gracious.  Take time, consider the request and how it would affect your current workload, and if you cannot commit to anything additional, inform the requestor that the proposed project would negatively impact the quality of your current work.

An accommodating way to say ‘no’ is to follow it with an alternative.  In the end, you have been asked because there is a problem that requires solving.  It does not revolve around your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  All that matters is a solution.  If you provide that, the ‘no’ will be long forgotten.

‘I am overloaded currently, however I can assist you with a system that will cut your resolution time by half’

‘I do not have time to assist but I can help you find someone who does.’

To a client:  ‘Unfortunately, I have prior commitments today however I can clear my diary tomorrow to suit you.’

So when is it wise to say yes? 

When you do have the time and the means to assist a colleague.  We do not exist in a vacuum – we need each other’s help and the favour will be returned when you need it someday….and that someday is always sooner than you expected.

When your manager asks you to complete an assignment that would inevitably be a huge notch in your belt.  Work additional hours to complete it if it will assist you to be recognised in your field or create growth opportunities.

When the job entails you learning something new or becoming proficient in another area/department.  Knowledge is always a good idea!

Never turn down a junior employee who asks you to be their mentor.  It is a huge compliment and the time you invest in developing an individual is invaluable.

Eradicate these reactions that people replace ‘no’ with:

The Over-justification: Don’t say no, then follow with a long account of why you cannot do it.  Unconsciously, you are inviting the person to find a loophole in your argument and if successful, you would have no option but to accept anyway.  Give a brief explanation that the time is not right or your present duties do not allow for it and spend more time finding a solution rather than relating excuses.

Beater-about-the-bush:  Say ‘no’ firmly and assertively.  ‘Naaah, I doubt it, I don’t think it’s possible, maybe, that is going to be difficult’ are phrases that give hope.  This type will eventually lead to the push-over status.

The Push-Over:  Recognise those who use flattery, over persistency, excessive smiley faces etc. to attempt to convert you. If you are currently saying ‘yes’ to everything, prepare to be over-worked, abused and irreplaceable.  Sadly, irreplaceable means never progressing in your career.  The ‘yes’ employee is easily spotted from a mile away and these people, as obliging as they are, will be mistreated.

The Cold Shoulder:  It will not go away if you ignore it.  A persistent person will just keep returning and others will be offended that you did not afford them the respect of giving them an answer.  Send an email if you are uncomfortable with the art of declining however do learn how to face a conflicting situation head on for future.  Depending on the request, it is advisable to decline in person.

The Offensive Colleague:  Always be polite about it.  ‘Unfortunately I cannot assist at this time,’ is a lot less offensive than ‘Forget it! NO!  Absolutely Not!’ Don’t transform aggression into sarcasm either.  Sarcasm only sounds witty to the sender, never the receiver.  Non-verbal communication is as significant as your words.  Be careful of eye-rolling, shaking your head and other gestures that suggest arrogance.

How to handle Money Loaners:

In and out of the office, this is arguably the worst request of all.  The lending and borrowing of money amongst colleagues should be avoided at all costs.  Your work (and other) relationships should be treated like fine china.  It can easily be permanently damaged due to a conflict over money.  This is an easy ‘no’.  ‘I value our relationship too much to lend you money.’ Or ‘As a rule, I do not lend or borrow money’.  If someone is in dire straits, assist them to loan money from a financial credit provider or an advance on salary.  As a manager or supervisor, recommend extra overtime to enable your employee to earn more or offer advice if the person has a history of poor money management.  If a salary advance is granted, it should be stated that this will not be commonplace in future to discourage comebacks.

Setting boundaries is a reflection of strength and self-respect and the first step is saying ‘no’ and prioritising.  Ensuring you do not have too much on your plate starts with assessing the size of your plate. After that, ‘no’ will sound a lot sweeter!

“It’s only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” Steve Jobs