I work in a fast moving and stressful job that requires daily client interaction. In a job such as mine, the stakes run very high on each meeting, each interaction, each elevator pitch and each deliverable. My company is hugely committed to delivering the best quality to clients.
In order to sustain quality of people, the company has an up or out culture — wherein if you are not promoted to the next level within a certain time frame, you are expected to leave. You get the picture!
Naturally, the work offers situations where many people step up to mentor and provide advice. Over my last 7 years in the firm, I have been given lots of advice. It is not easy to navigate demanding work situations without guidance of people who have been in the industry much longer than me.
Having said that, not all advice is tempered or customized to fit your unique personality and YOU ARE UNIQUE. So let me share one misfit advice and one well fitting advice I have received in my career.
Let’s start with the ugly advice
Most of corporate America claims to be inclusive of introverted personalities, but still views leadership as primarily an extroverted phenomenon. I guess no one is reading the stats. Forbes article recently noticed the trend of introverted CEOs and published an article. On similar note is the blatant disregard of ‘Emotionality’ as a critical trait in the business leaders today, such as Satya Nadella.
People who asked me to be aggressive made a few mistakes
a) They assumed that aggression is the answer for all introverts who want to be successful
b) They disregarded and failed to hone my inner strengths which are on the other end of the spectrum from ‘aggressiveness’
Obviously, as I put this advice in the ‘ugly’ category, I clearly disregarded it.
However, the advice did cause sleepless nights and heart-burn because they made me question if I was truly cut out to be a leader. Thank god for people along the way to help me continue looking at myself as an asset even if I did not fit in.
My husband, a strong intellectual, helped me understand by his example that it is not the quantity of words or loudness of personality, but the quality of words that matter.
He is an introvert, albeit the smartest one in the room, and he is respected as a decision maker and leader — without ever being ‘aggressive’. As a result, I made my peace with the fact that I can learn to be assertive, but my behavior will most likely not mirror the level of aggressiveness expected by many senior leaders.
Now that the unpleasantness is out of the way, let’s get to the good and meaty advice…..
Flex, but remember your foundation
I recognized that workplace was another school in our life. It is a school meant to put forth challenging situations that when met authentically, helped us grow as a person.
People I respect immensely helped me see that I ALWAYS have a choice in how much of myself am I willing to flex and how much of my foundation am I willing to forget
They helped me look at my experiences to understand that I can break them down in three categories based on my values.
A) Situations which are in complete alignment with my values
Such situations are often in my comfort zone and provide me maximum potential for success and excellence.
For example, I love investing in the personal and professional growth of people. If I am required to train or empower a team mate, the situation will be aligned with my value and will allow me to perform at 100% productivity and excel
B) Situations which are slightly out of alignment with my values
Such situations are slightly outside my comfort zone and do not play directly to my strengths, requiring me to flex my current skills and exhibit resilience when things do not go my way. If I decide to flex and exhibit resilience, I walk away with a lesson and stronger personality.
For example, as I mentioned, I am an introvert. My job requires me to engage with clients in workshops with multiple stakeholders. I am comfortable in one on one meetings, because of my ability to connect with people.
However, huge workshops with multiple stakeholders demand that I step out of my comfort zone and extend my attention to more than one person. The more I practice flexing my introverted nature, the more I grow and adapt to such situations, when needed.
None of these calls are my preferred more of communication. However, I realize that I can flex my style to provide my clients with maximum value. As I get comfortable with being uncomfortable, my effectiveness in meetings has seen an increase.
C) Situations that are in complete conflict with my values
Such situations come with physical feedback. I feel a pit in my stomach, indicating that I am not comfortable with this situation and need to make a choice. If I choose to flex, it would require a compromise of one or more of my core values. If I choose not to flex, I would stay true to my values and would have to courageously bear some consequence.
For example, I have often found people in my team engage in workplace politics. Framing messaging with the intention of proving seniority or forcefully grabbing ownership can be very common. I can choose to respond with equal vengeance and adopt the same approach in my meetings.
However, this is in complete misalignment with my personality and makes my stomach churn
I have never believed in success at any cost and have not found the ability to truly respect leaders who target success while burning people at the stake.
Clearly, I refuse to engage publicly with such situations and refuse. On the downside, I have to be ready to accept the consequences, which might include a weaker client relationship or stolen credit for effort owned by me.
So, advice can come from many directions and can be confusing. At the end of the day, some advice, when adopted will make you grow into a stronger professional. Some advice when adopted might change your DNA — the decision to pick and choose lies with you!