Archive | May, 2014
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Beware ‘The Bewitched Fallacy’: Developing A Strong Professional Persona Does Not Mean Becoming Someone Else

29 May

Ever heard of the TV show, Bewitched? If you’re 35 or younger and are not an avid fan of old-school television shows from decades past, chances are good that you have no clue what I’m talking about. Bewitched was a popular sitcom in the 1960s and 70s that had as its main character a witch named Samantha who had the power to transform herself and other people (most particularly her husband, a mortal) into someone else with just a wrinkle of her nose. When a situation wasn’t going well for Samantha or her husband, Darrin, she swooped in (no broomstick needed), wrinkled her nose a bit and, poof, everything, including her husband’s entire identity was transformed. Out with the old, in with the new.

To tell you more about the show would dilute its relevance here, so I’ll cut to the chase: While you do need to cultivate (and continually hone) a strong Professional Identity or Brand to maximize your career success and satisfaction, to achieve this goal does not require you to let go of who you are, to toss your core self and values to the wayside and assume the identity of someone else. Leave that type of complete transformation to the fictitious witch on Bewitched.

The Internet is chockfull of great advice on how to become the consummate professional: 

Learn to read non-verbal cues.

Be an active, fully engaged listener.

Learn how to ‘brag’ in a way that garners respect, not looks of disdain.

Speak with confidence.

Learn to handle conflict with grace and empathy, not anger.

Be authentic in your relationships.

Maintain clear personal/professional boundaries at work.

Much of the advice from leadership development experts (myself included) that you find in articles on The Huffington Post, The Muse, Forbes and many other high-quality online publications is important, and I hope you find it useful.

At the same time, given the morass of advice that’s out there, I also hope you are not getting the impression that cultivating a strong professional persona, one that sets you on a course to career success in a challenging economic climate, means bidding farewell to your former self, the identity that makes you, YOU. Please don’t fall victim to the ‘The Bewitched Fallacy’, namely, the notion that your charge is to erase everything, start from a blank slate and cultivate a whole new person with a set of skills, personality traits, behaviors, qualities, etc. that mirror a ready-made, generally accepted template for the ideal professional.

On the contrary, the advice is meant to help you become your best you. The goal is for you to refine and integrate any advice you receive in a way that is right for you, that positions you to be true to your core values, to capitalize on your best unique traits, qualities and inherent skills, and to improve upon those qualities that don’t serve you well. You need to do this in your own way, according to your own timeline and with the type and level of support and guidance that specifically works for you. Strong communication, listening, interpersonal, stress management, conflict negotiation and many other skills are essential, but it is how you cultivate, combine, put into practice and continually hone these and other skills, behaviors, attitudes and relationships in a professional context that constitute your unique professional brand and distinguishes you from others.

Here are some suggestions to help you become your BEST YOU throughout your career:

  1. Gain clarity about and stay true to your core professional values. Your professional values are what gives you a sense of meaning and drives your professional decisions, behaviors, perspectives and relationships. Your values reflect what is most important to you and fuel your desire to achieve your goals. They enable you to work in service of how you want to be perceived and experienced by others. They help you develop and maintain an accurate sense of yourself. Staying true to your values will enable you to take the skills and knowledge you gain, the experiences you have, the guidance you receive, and the qualities of other people who you admire most, and shape and make them an intrinsic part of you.
  1. Learn to relish and proudly let others know that you will always be a ‘work in progress’ (just like they will always be, regardless of their seniority and accomplishments). Developing and capitalizing on your Professional Persona has no end-point and that’s a good thing. We are so fortunate to be a species that has a never-ending capacity to grow and adapt and become an even greater version of ourselves. It is up to you to recognize how lucky you are in this regard and take advantage of it.
  1. Don’t aspire to become [insert the name of the business leader you admire most]. While it is certainly helpful to gain insights and learn about the experiences, qualities, skills, leadership style and other facets of the business leaders you so admire, be careful that you don’t lose your sense of self and set your sights on becoming their clone. They are not the embodiment of success that you and all others should aspire to become. They are simply neat people who have developed a strong professional brand that serves them well in their career. Your charge is to take the best of what you learn from speaking with, observing and reading about others and figure out how to adapt and apply it in a way that suits and furthers your unique values, qualities, skills, etc.
  1. Welcome support and guidance from others from a position of strength, not weakness. So many of us are taught from a young age that we need to figure it all out on our own. We have this entirely misguided sense that if we need support and/or guidance from others, it must mean that we have failed, that we are inadequate, that we must turn our entire sense of self-worth and professional development over to someone else. This couldn’t be further from the truth. To be your best professional self, you need support, and you also need advice that you can tailor to fit your unique identity.
  1. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Feeling stuck, overwhelmed, confused, discouraged, insecure, and the like is all part and parcel of professional (and personal) growth. Don’t compound these already negative, uncomfortable feelings by getting angry with yourself for having them. Do your best to be extra patient and kind to yourself when you’re struggling and don’t hesitate to reach out to others for support as well.

What other advice would you add to this list?

I wish you all of the best.

Some Advice on Taking Advice (From Leadership Development Professionals)

20 May

Looking for advice on honing your leadership style, making a career change, stress management, dealing with a difficult boss or almost any other career-related topic? Your timing is perfect. Online publications, such as The Daily Muse, Forbes.com’s Work In Progress, Fast Company and so many others, as well as the Blogs of top of the line career and leadership experts, are chockfull of articles with the latest research, interviews with experts, tales from the field and practical advice.

Just a few clicks of your keyboard and there they are, some online articles that are right on the mark as far as your work-related questions are concerned. They crystallize your issues in a way you never thought possible. They offer legitimate reasons for why you (and so many others) are feeling the way you do, which you find very validating. And, most important to you, they include advice that you find easy to understand and seems fairly simple to put into practice.

Are you feeling inspired and ready to put your newfound, seemingly easy strategies into action starting tomorrow? Please Wait! The advice that experts (myself included) give you is never easy or quick to put into action.

The rest of this article can be found on The Daily Muse: https://www.themuse.com/advice/what-to-do-with-every-piece-of-career-advice-you-read

 

Your Professional Persona is Not Your Position, Seniority, Salary or Reputation.

13 May

In my early twenties, when I was just getting started in the professional work world, my concept of my professional identity was, quite simply, the position I held within the company that was kind enough to employ me. Who am I? I am an Associate with ABC, Inc. That, to me, was the long and short of my professional persona, my professional brand. 

Then, in my late twenties, as I was given greater responsibility and some nice salary increases at the company that was not only kind enough to keep me on but also apparently saw some value in my contribution, my sense of my professional persona broadened just a bit. My concept of myself as a professional was no longer that of an entry-level staff person with no redeeming skills and value beyond being a willing learner. I started defining my professional identity as someone with a limited set of industry-specific (hard) skills and a decent position and salary. At this stage, the equation in my head was, My Professional Persona = Position, Seniority, Industry-Specific Knowledge.

Fast-forward to my mid-thirties, and I began to see my professional persona in a whole new and much healthier light. Thanks to my own often-challenging efforts to self-reflect and rewire the always-critical-of-myself tape in my head, and some fabulous executive coaching, helpful feedback and advice from my bosses over the years, and input and support from friends and family, I came to understand that my professional identity/persona/brand is NOT my position, power, money or reputation.

My Professional Persona IS the way in which I shape, combine, apply and continually hone my:

  • Relationship, communication and listening skills;
  • Breadth of both industry and life knowledge;
  • Personal and professional experiences;
  • Personality traits and styles, behaviors, attitudes;
  • Emotional intelligence and ability to read people;
  • Professional values;
  • Professional missteps and the ways in which I have grown from them;
  • Understanding of my strengths and not-so-strong areas;
  • My professional achievements, to include ones I consider achievements as well as recognition I have received from others, and the extent to which I don’t them define my sense of my professional worth;
  • Constant efforts to be kinder and much less critical of myself;
  • Maintain reasonable expectations of others;
  • Desire to continue to work on and strengthen my professional persona;
  • Commitment to being authentic in my professional relationships; and
  • So much more that I couldn’t fit on this page and have yet to realize!

Just to be clear, I am not always confident, nor am I fully in touch with my Professional Brand. I have ‘off’ days just like we all do, and I aim to evolve a lot more. This whole Professional Persona thing is not a riddle that I have solved and crossed off my ‘to-do’ list. On the contrary, identifying and capitalizing on your professional persona is not a riddle at all. It is your unique, non-linear, never-static and never-ending path that is, at times, exhilarating, rewarding, burdensome, frustrating and everything in between.

My hope is that you have or are on your way to developing a strong sense of your professional self, and that it fuels you. If you currently define and attribute your professional worth to your position, salary and/or status, or just your industry-specific knowledge and skills, or in a similarly limited way, then this article is meant for you. If you don’t feel clear and/or confident about your professional persona and its value, then I hope I have encouraged you to tend to this critical part of yourself. You deserve and will be all the better for it.

Here are some takeaways from my ongoing journey to develop a fully actualized professional persona that I hope will be helpful to you:

  • There is no finish line. Just like our personal growth, our professional self-concept and brand should also be constantly evolving and embraced as a life-long endeavor.
  • Be patient with yourself. Developing or reestablishing a clear, confident sense of your Professional Persona takes time and hard work. Try your best to take pride in the fact that, by virtue of being human, you will always be a ‘work in progress’. 
  • Don’t bury and hide from your missteps at work. Embrace and learn from them. An inspiring article by Fast Company, called Failure Is The Only Option, If Success Is The End Goal, so aptly notes that “if learning happens through trial and error, then you need to try and, more importantly, you need to err”. The article further states that “real failure doesn’t come from making mistakes; it comes from avoiding errors at all possible costs, from fear to take risks and from the inability to grow.”
  • Establish an ongoing support system of trusted peers who provide you with unbiased, non-judgmental feedback and advice, pep rallying and creative inspiration and expect the same from you. For so long, I was one of the millions who believe that to be a standout professional, to achieve my definition of professional success and be recognized as such by others, I had to figure it all out on my own. In my mind, turning to others for what was without a doubt a much-needed level of support, advice and creativity meant that I wasn’t a genuine professional; I was a fake because I needed ‘help’, another anchor besides just my own mind. Sound familiar? About a decade into my career, I finally realized that both gaining and giving encouragement, candid feedback and work ideas to a group of trusted peers is a sign of strength and essential to professional development and self-awareness. Harvard Business School Professor and former Medtronic CEO, Bill George, and Founder & CEO of the True North Groups Institute, Doug Baker, have been benefiting from their True North Group, which is the support system they created almost 4 decades ago.They describe their True North Group as“at various times a nurturer, a grounding rod, a truth teller, and a mirror. At other times, the group functions as a challenger or an inspirer. When people are wracked with self-doubts it helps build their courage and ability to cope.” While my support system is a little less formal, I am proud that I have one and hope to keep it forever.
  • Know your ‘anxiety trigger points’ and take a moment to acknowledge and tend to them when they occur. Like it or not, regardless of what a strong sense of our professional brand we develop, there will always be certain situations, types of personalities, environments, work projects, etc. that prompt a sudden jolt of anxiety without warning and can cause us to behave in ways that are not in keeping with the professional persona we have worked so hard to establish. Being in touch with what I refer to as our anxiety trigger points and pausing for a moment before taking action (out of anxiety) when they are activated without warning will be very helpful.
  • Know the types of interactions, quick work tasks, non-work-related activities, etc., that reinvigorate your ‘I’m competent, I’m great’ feeling and seek out those opportunities during even your busiest workdays. We all have those times when our internal pep-engine seizes up, and we lose sight of our competence and our confidence plummets. Identify the types of interactions, mindless (or not) work tasks or quick activities that restore your confidence and sense of competence. A former colleague runs at lunch, which makes her feel incredibly capable (and also provides that fabulous endorphin release). A friend of mine seeks out a colleague to see if she can help them with something. At the risk of losing all credibility with you, one of my favorite positive distractions is folding laundry (I work from home). It’s easy. It gives me a sense of order. It has a definitive start and end-point (which my work almost never does). It gives me immediate gratification.

What other advice would you like to offer?