Expect to Win : 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace, by Harris, Carla (Author)
- ISBN: 9780452295902 | 0452295904
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 1/26/2010
The Power Is You
There is only oneyou!
The day your company hired you, someone else did not get the job because you were the best candidate. They hired you because you had the best combination of skills, personality, and potential and a unique blend of values and abilities. Over any other person they interviewed, the company felt that you could best execute the job, fulfill their need for talent, and satisfy their specific need for a discrete skill set. You got the job because you had a competitive advantage over all of the other candidates. That important competitive advantage?You.No one else can be you the way you can; this is your source of power within the organization.
One of the keys to your long-term success in any organization is to own the person who youreallyare. If you bring that original, best you to work every day, the one that interviewed for and got the job, then you can maintain your competitive advantage in the orga nization now and, more importantly, over time.
Bringing the real you to work allows you to be free! Free to learn new concepts, free to be creative and responsive, free to take risks—all of which helps to enhance the professional that you are and makes you valuable to the organization. In today’s competitive environment, the person who learns new concepts quickly, who can adapt commercially, or, in other words, can apply those lessons in a way that can make money for the firm, and who is also client-oriented, is the person who moves most quickly in a company and is most handsomely rewarded.
If you are preoccupied with trying to play a role or trying to behave, speak, or act the way youthinkothers want you to, your mind won’t be free to perform at your highest level, be flexible, and be able to adapt to changes. Putting on an act eventually becomes exhausting and uses up valuable mental capacity that could instead be directed toward making important contributions at work.
The reason that I am such a strong advocate for being who you really are at work is that doing so gives you confidence. When you are comfortable with who you are, you exude confidence, and that’s attractive to clients and to colleagues. Others want to listen to confident people; they want to hear your ideas, they trust your judgment, and they will buy what you are selling, whether it is a product, a financing pitch, or a decision.
When you are not being who you really are, at some point you will begin to appear uncomfortable to others. Especially in client- facing businesses, such as investment banking or sales, trust in relationships is an important element of success. When you act and speak with confidence, it contributes to your performance. If you appear to be tentative or apprehensive (which usually happens when you are lacking confidence), then you open the door for your clients to doubt what you are saying, you potentially lose the opportunity to win the business, and you open the door for a competitor to get the upper hand in a relationship.
A lack of confidence can also hurt in your internal interactions as well. When you are confident with who you are, it helps you to build trust in relationships with the people you work with. Especially if your work environment is very competitive or has a relatively flat hierarchy, which also tends to intensify internal competition, then it is imperative that you have confidence in who you are and what you are doing. If you are in a competitive environment where the rule is “up or out” (either you move up within the organization over a period of time or you have to leave the organization) and your colleagues realize that you are not comfortable with who you are or in your work, then they will actively try to find ways to make you doubt yourself.
If you are constantly questioning your abilities in the workplace, then sooner or later your boss is likely to notice and their trust or belief in you will be impaired. And when your boss starts to doubt whether or not you can do the work or have the ability to sell your ideas, then you are very likely to be viewed as someone who cannot or should not move up within the organization or get the opportunity to have bigger or better clients or other responsibilities.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, gifts and talents. Have the confidence to play up yours. Be proud about what you do well and who you are. And work to improve your weaknesses whenever possible. You don’t have to wear either on your sleeve, but don’t suppress what’s good and interesting about yourself either.
Putting on an act eventually will manifest itself into appearing discontent, and if it’s at a really inopportune moment, such as when you’re presenting to an important client, it could cost you a piece of business, a new assignment, or a promotion. And if clients or colleagues feel they don’t know who you are, that you will lean any way the wind blows, they won’t fully trust you. When that happens, you have created a competitive disadvantage for yourself compared to the colleague who is confident, stands by their word, and knows who they are.
Know Who You Are
So how do you know who you are? It seems like an easy question, but many people have never really taken the time to think about it. If you haven’t, you need to ask yourself some important questions: What are your key strengths and weaknesses? Why are you in the profession that you are in? Why did you choose the firm that you chose? What are your goals at the firm, in that department, and for the specific job or seat that you are in?
You get to know who you are not only by asking these questions, but also by the experiences you have and by paying close attention to how you react in different situations and understanding why you are doing what you are doing. When you are comfortable with the decisions thatyoumake and why you make them, then you are starting to get a handle on who you really are. Further, knowing who you are helps you to quickly identify when things go awry or when your career is veering off track, and it helps you to quickly identify solutions to remedy challenging situations. If you know who you are in an environment, where you belong, and how you fit in, then you will have the confidence to make changes or to speak up as needed to make sure that you are maximizing your success.
In order to stay focused on remaining authentic and being the best original you can be, you must first understand what your competitive strengths are and concentrate on improving your weaknesses. In any situation, you always want to both lead with your strengths and commit to making time to improve those skills that you think you need to work on. At all times, you must be able to explain why you belong in a particular position, whyyoudeserve a promotion, why you deserve the raise or the highest tier of bonuses, or simply why you are so good at what you do.
Focusing on these questions will help you develop that all-important “elevator speech.” That’s the quick speech you need to have at the ready at all times; the one that explains to people who you are and what you want in the time it takes to go up or down the elevator. This is an important skill to develop. You never know when or where you will have the opportunity to talk to someone about your strengths and goals within a company. Therefore, you need to be clear about you, your goals, and your assets, and have your elevator speech about yourself ready to use at any time. Your power lies in putting your best self forward every day. If you are always focused on presenting your authentic self wherever you go, you will be able to automatically present a speech about yourself whenever the situation demands it, and you’ll be able to do so in a compelling and convincing manner.
The people who seem comfortable in their own skin and who are bringing their real selves to work generally also are the same people who can have an honest dialogue with their bosses, who have the courage to ask for the promotion, the bonus, or the new assignment, and who are quick to point out when someone or something is impeding their success. On the other hand, those who have submerged who they truly are, or, worse, have completely lost sight of who they are, are the people who typically are passive about their career, generally unhappy, and under the illusion that things will just happen for them without any effort on their part. These people generally don’t own their decisions, their positions, their career trajectory (the direction your career will take), or themselves. They are not the first to be thought of for new assignments or promotions. Their careers tend to stall and they are left behind.
Consider Peter, who outside of the office is a very charismatic guy. He is affable and comfortable with who he is; he loves to debate, and is extremely articulate. He builds relationships easily and loves to connect people in his network. He is also recognized as a “brainiac” among his peers because of his outstanding analytical and structuring skills. At work, however, Peter is a completely different person. He is quiet and in meetings often only speaks after everyone else has spoken. He never leads a discussion unless pushed by his boss and he has never articulated in a concrete, compelling manner what he wants from the organization or what he wants out of his career. He is afraid of rocking the boat.
Peter often develops creative financing ideas and shares them with peers, but he never steps up to take credit for or be recognized for his contribution, instead allowing his ideas to be integrated with those of others. Peter has been at his firm for eighteen years and has not had a promotion in more than eight years. Even though he does excellent work, he is not perceived as someone who can penetrate client thought, make and close a sale, or be solely responsible for generating revenue. He is not perceived as a leader; a solid citizen, yes, but not a leader.
There is a distinct difference between inside-the-office Peter and outside-the-office Peter, and unfortunately that difference is costing Peter in his career. The outside Peter is an influential thought leader. He makes compelling arguments and leads people to his way of thinking. Yet he does not bring that Peter to work with him every day. He is not his authentic self in the work environment, and as a result his career has stalled. If he would exercise his voice, leverage his outstanding structuring skills, and sell them internally, he would move quickly within the organization. He clearly cares about his work, but he hasn’t approached his boss and outlined what he wants from his career, from the organization, and how he can get there. Since he has submerged that part of who he is, he is not realizing his full value in the organization professionally or economically.
Owning who you are really are will give you the confidence to speak up for yourself if you think you are not being treated fairly or not being properly recognized for who you are and your contributions to the organization. I often find that people who think that the organization is not recognizing their contributions, are in fact not really exhibiting the skills, strengths, or traits that they think they are. Before you start to blame the organization for not seeing what you offer, ask yourself, Am I showing them that I can penetrate or influence client thought? That I can win client business? That I care about being promoted? Or am I assuming that the organization should know this or observe this on its own? Am I bringing my contributions to the table in a visible and compelling way?”
Authenticity Transcends the Personality
When I say to bring your authentic self to work, I am not saying that if you like wearing jeans and T-shirts and the code of attire at your workplace is conservative button-down suits that you should come to the office wearing your casual attire. Part of being authentic is choosing a job and an environment that you are comfortable working in, one where you know that you can comply with both the written and unwritten rules.
Consider the code of attire within financial services. The common code of attire at all of the big brokerage houses is expensive, conservative suits, shoes, scarves, ties, and so on for both men and women. While still largely the same, things have relaxed a bit in recent times with the introduction of casual business attire. When I made the decision that financial services was the industry I wanted to pursue a career in and an environment that I wanted to work in, I asked myself whether I was willing to put on that uniform every day. Did I understand the financial commitment that I would be making to my wardrobe to play in this game? Yes! It was part of the territory, and it was a territory that I wanted to do business in. It was also consistent with who I am. I like nice clothes and in most cases I am more of a conservative dresser than not, so it was easy for me to do. I do not feel like I am getting up every morning and putting on a different Carla, somebody who I am not. I may not dress this way on the weekends or at parties, but I did want to work in an environment where this type of uniform was required every day.
Every industry has a code of conduct, including attire, a persona for its professionals. There are expectations for how you should behave or what your predominant skill set or perspective should be. For example, a banker is expected to have strong quantitative skills; a trader should be able to spot money-making opportunities quickly, to be nimble and a quick decision maker; a lawyer is expected to have great oratorical skills; and a consultant should have outstanding analytical skills. When considering the right seat for you, you have to ask yourself whether these expectations are credible and easy for you to satisfy.
The expectations of an industry or position have to be consistent with who you are on a fundamental level. If you think it will be a struggle for you to meet them, then you should seriously consider whether or not that profession, career, or job is the right one for you. In other words, if you are a quiet, introspective thinker with creative skills who hates to make presentations and prefers to work alone, then working as part of a sales team at a pharmaceutical company probably is not the right job for you. Conversely, if you are an analytical thinker who loves to crunch numbers and analyze deals, you probably wouldn’t do well working in the creative department of an advertising firm.
Life is way too short to walk into a job every day feeling like you are not operating at 150 percent and excited about doing a great job. If you are resenting your environment or your job, then your authentic self will get lost in that company, as will your competitive advantage. Further, it’s likely that your career trajectory will stall and not move upward, or, worse, will head downward.
If this is the case for you, if you find yourself unenthusiastic about your job or career, stop and ask yourself what would change things. Figure out what you need to help you to feel good about walking in the front door of your office building every morning. What would have to happen for you to want to spend eight to twelve hours in the same place every day? Consider your strengths—the ones that got you hired in the first place—as well as your weaknesses. Do you have an opportunity to showcase those key strengths every day? To leverage them? To use them to build value for your company? Are you getting an opportunity to improve your weaknesses and to add to your skill/experience tool chest? If the answer to any of these questions is no, maybe all you need is to seek out a little training. But you also have to be truthful with yourself and consider whether perhaps you are in the wrong seat, in the wrong department, at the wrong firm, or even in the wrong industry.
I’m Struggling up the Ladder but it’s Leaning Against the Wrong Building
A question that I often get at the end of my speeches is, “Suppose I have taken a good look at myself and my organization and I see now that I cannot really be my authentic self at work. There is a clear mismatch between the types of things that inspire or excite me and what the organization is looking for in its model for success. What do I do?” Let’s say you’ve read through this chapter and you’ve done exactly as I suggested. You’ve sat down and made out your list of strengths and weaknesses. You’ve reviewed your firm’s Web site and marketing literature and feel you understand what the company thinks is important. And then you realize that your worst fears are confirmed, that you are working in the wrong type of job or industry! You’ve suspected it all along, you’ve never really felt comfortable in your job or at industry events, but now you see it on paper. How do you change it or get out of it? Is it too late for you?
Let me assure you, it isn’t too late. But I won’t lie to you either. The further you are into your career, the more challenging it may be to remedy the situation. But you have to understand that if you stay, you will never be valued or rewarded in a substantial way or one that makes you feel accomplished and successful in your career. Why? Because you won’t offer your very best self to the organization. That nagging voice inside saying, “You should be working somewhere else” will never go away, not fully. You constantly will wonder whether if you were doing something else you would be making more money. Would you be happier? If you are not planning to retire in the next year, then you still have time to change the situation so you can be more productive and happier in your professional life.
Here’s an example of someone who did just that. Anne worked as a writer in financial services marketing and communications for nearly seventeen years. While she enjoyed writing brochures and white papers and creating Web site copy, she was never really passionate about the investment topics she wrote about. She did well enough in her career but never really felt like she belonged in the Wall Street environment, sensing that her laid-back, creative, introspective personality didn’t fit with her hard-driving, intense colleagues. Her reviews were always good, people liked her, and she had a reputation as an excellent writer, but she longed to write about topics she felt a personal connection to.
During her free time, Anne volunteered for several nonprofits and would often write articles about the people she met while doing community work. She also loved to write about spiritual or women’s issues just for fun. Anne noticed that her spirit came alive when working on these types of stories, and she often would work late into the night to finish them and never felt tired. She was passionate about getting these articles published, while conversely, writing about stocks and investment products in her day job left her feeling bored.
Having reached the VP level and senior writer status, Anne knew she had no interest in pursuing the next logical step in her career progression, to head of marketing and communications. She knew it was time for a change. She spent some time thinking and got honest about who she was, what kind of environment she was best suited to, and what kind of things she liked to do. While she enjoyed the salary and other benefits she earned working in financial services, her focus and passions had changed over the years. Things like flexible work hours in a less structured setting and the opportunity to immerse herself in topics she cared about, such as spirituality, personal empowerment, and people doing good works in the world were more important to her. So, while continuing to work full time, for three and a half years Anne returned to school, taking classes in the evenings and earning her master’s in journalism. Also during that three and a half years she looked for every opportunity she could find to network with magazine and book publishers, editors, and other writers, inviting people to informational lunches, attending seminars and speeches, and scouring the Internet for information about various writing careers. And just before finishing her degree, while attending a networking event hosted at her own Wall Street firm, she met an author who needed a ghostwriter for a spiritual book. She jumped at the chance and eventually left her job in financial services. She is now happy and fulfilled earning her living working as a freelance writer and editor.
Of course we all have economic concerns and most of us work because we have to—few of us are independently wealthy! But if this example speaks to you, when you took the job, like Anne, on some level you likely knew that it wasn’t right for you. You took it just to have a job, and as a result, you gave away your real power. I don’t say this to beat up on you. But, like Anne, it’s time to take back your power. If you are doing a job that you love doing, you will excel, and if you excel, the money, the opportunity, and the power will follow. This is not to say that your only option is to leave your company or completely change industries. Commit to spending the next twelve to twenty-four months thinking about what you want out of your career. Ask yourself what you are good at. Even if you are just starting out at twenty-two or twenty-three years old, you know what things you like to do. Or ask yourself what you want to learn how to do. What skills or experiences would you like to add to your personal platform? Once you answer those questions, then ask yourself what you can get out of this organization. What does it offer you? Does it offer the chance to learn selling skills? Quantitative skills? What can you learn and use so that you can then go and sell it to someone else at a higher price in a different job, in a different department, or for another company or industry. Choosing a career just for the money is not a prerequisite for long-term success. Figuring this out and then developing or enhancing new or transferable skills should now be your focus. It is what you will use as a launching pad for the next step in your career.
On most days you should be able to make the case that you are adding value to your firm, taking steps toward realizing your personal goals, and that you are enjoying doing it. If you aren’t, you need to reevaluate where you are and exercise the courage to do something to change it. Otherwise you will continue operating at a competitive disadvantage, and doing so over a long period of time eventually will cause you and your career to falter.
Know Your Goals
You don’t walk into a job, a company, or a career thinking that you are going to change it, unless you are being hired to do just that. This is not to say that you can’t make changes—maybe you can—but you have to first ask yourself whether you are comfortable operating in it as it is. Maybe you are not planning to be in that career or profession long term. Perhaps you are doing it for a short period of time, using it as a stepping stone to something else, or for the money, or for the exposure. That is a perfectly good plan, but own it and commit to be your best self while you are there, because you are there as part of your plan. That is how to be authentic.
Authenticity really begins before you walk through the front door to a new job, career, or assignment. It calls for you to understand what your goals are in the assignment before you begin. You must be able to answer questions such as, Why am I taking on this assignment? Does this assignment/project make sense because of the people I will be exposed to or the skills I will acquire? Is this assignment right for me because it furthers my objectives? These are all key questions to make sure you have aligned what you are doing with who you really are. Knowing why you are doing something in the workplace will keep you aligned authentically and, as we discussed before, will give you the opportunity to have the freedom to really learn, create, and add value to your work environment.
Keep an Eye on Your Authentic Self
When I’ve had difficulties in my career, it generally has been when I had lost sight of who I really am or of what my goals were. It was those times when powerful Carla, who easily speaks her mind, was not present, and fearful, unsure Carla was at the table.
I remember when I was just starting out in my career and was considered a junior person. I would worry that being who I was wouldn’t be accepted. I thought that I had to do things exactly the way I saw my colleagues or other senior people do them. Now anyone who knows me even just a little bit knows that I am an honest person who speaks the truth. You can always count on me to be a straight shooter. I am not afraid to speak in an open environment. But back then I was concerned that if I spoke up in the way that felt most comfortable for me and shared my ideas with the senior people in the room, especially my bosses, or even the clients, that people would think I had stepped out of line or that I was not expressing myself in a compelling way. I also was afraid that if I went too far out on a limb with a thought or an idea that the senior people in the room might not support me and back me up. After all, what if I said the wrong thing or made a mistake? They might just leave me hanging there, flapping in the wind. Rather than risk offending or losing a client or receiving internal criticism, I would sit in meetings and not contribute. I would diligently prepare for the meeting beforehand, but then I would get there and just sit, never saying a word!
Then I learned through the grapevine that a well-respected, high-ranking woman at the firm had said, “She doesn’t say anything in meetings; I don’t know if she’s smart or if she’s stupid.” She was talking about me! (For more on speaking up, see Chapter 6.)
Instead of helping me, as I thought being quiet and not sharing the real me would, it hurt me! The perception of me was not a good one. Instead of seeing me as the smart, capable Carla that I was, the perception of me was: “What’s wrong with her? Why doesn’t she speak? Does she know what is going on? Is she following the discussion? Does she even have a clue?”
I realized that as long as I sat playing it safe in silence, that no one would ever know who I was or what I was capable of. It soon became very clear that if I wanted to be successful in my career and considered an important member of the team and the organization, I couldn’t allow fear to keep me quiet any longer. The authentic Carla was not fearful, and she certainly wasn’t shy or quiet. Somewhere along the way I lost my voice, I submerged the real me, as I was trying to be what I thought would equate with success in the environment.
Focus on the Right Things
Even after I started to speak up in meetings, I still can remember making several presentations to clients that did not go well. Why? Because I was trying to present in a way that I thought would be acceptable to my colleagues and was considering the client second. I would spend long hours going over information, making sure that I covered all of the important points, making sure that I would sound impressive to my colleagues rather than focusing on impressing my client. I wanted to make sure that if we lost the presentation my coworkers couldn’t say that I did not know all of the important characteristics of my product or that I did not present it the way they would have presented it. With my colleagues as my focus rather than my clients, while my presentations were organized and articulate, unfortunately they also were flat and less than compelling. In fact, the feedback from my colleagues on those early presentations was that I sounded rote. They said I would just barrel through the facts and had no personality. By trying so hard to give a presentation in somebody else’s style, not only did I fail to impress my colleagues (the wrong objective anyway), but I also failed to connect with the client. I was so preoccupied with worrying about what my colleagues would think of me and what I said that I couldn’t focus on bringing my best self to the meeting. Rather than focusing on my strategy of effectively communicating my message, building a rapport and laying a foundation for a relationship with the client, I was too worried about what they (my colleagues) would think of my presentation, how they would perceive my interaction with my client, and how they would portray it back to the organization. Because I was not focused on the unique competitive advantage that is me, consequently I did not effectively communicate why I was the best at what I do and why my firm was the best the client would ever find to handle the deal. The result? I didn’t show the real Carla, I didn’t show my best self, and the client didn’t hear the most excellent ideas and what I had to contribute. I did not effectively sell myself or my organization.
After repeatedly having this experience and hearing the same less-than-enthusiastic feedback, I decided it was time to start giving presentations in a different way, and in the way I felt most comfortable. I started preparing with a focus on the client and began considering what was important to them, such as: What information do they need? If I were in their shoes, what would I be worried about concerning this transaction? And because the two are different, did this client need to be educated or convinced?
After adopting this new approach, I went into a very important client presentation with the CEO, CFO, COO, and head of human resources for a Fortune 500 company. The objective was to explain the mechanics and strategy of how we were going to successfully execute a very large initial public offering and the techniques that we would use to maximize the price and the optimum distribution of the transaction. I had one colleague with me, and frankly his presence was a reinforcement to bring the real Carla to the table. I trusted him and knew that he believed in me to take this risk. In fact, he had used his professional and political capital to set up this meeting and have me involved. I had the undivided attention of the most senior individuals in the company and I brought the real Carla to the table.
The outcome was phenomenal. Rather than making a presentation to the client, I had a conversation with them. By the end of the meeting, they trusted who I was and that I would do a great job for them on the transaction. The next day the CFO made a point to call the most senior officer on the account to give very complimentary feedback and rave reviews about the meeting. It was not only a great accomplishment for me, but more important, I learned two of the most significant lessons to that point in my career. First, I learned that when you can turn a presentation into a conversation, you have won the battle of converting a client; and second, I learned that the real Carla was my best competitive weapon and my key personal advantage.
If I had brought my authentic self to those situations earlier in my career, I would have been able to focus on what was important: listening to the client, picking up on small cues of what was significant to them and responding quickly and creatively to their needs, and, no doubt, ultimately I would have created more productive meetings, a better professional reputation, and a steeper career trajectory for myself. I would have learned key lessons of my profession much sooner and could have been entrusted to take on greater responsibility earlier. I would have been able to build the trust that is the foundation of any client-banker relationship because I would have communicated authenticity, not tentativeness, lack of confidence, or, worse, fear.