Who you are is who you are

A strong and successful career is not something you are entitled to. It takes work, dedication and strategy, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Last week I took 40 minutes out of my day to watch this video by Caroline Wanga:

I loved her practical, vulnerable and humorous approach. Here are some of the key points I resonated with, some of which might be considered controversial.

1. Your key objective as an employee is to add value.

When you are an employee your job is to make the company money. You are part of a team required to ensure the business is sustainable and profitable. Your role is not to be the diversity expert or the best product manager. You fulfil these functions and activities to ensure the success of the business.

Too often we, as passionate employees, pursue a course of action because of our own personal values and philosophies or because we think it is the right thing for employees or customers. But we must remember to always put the long-term success of the business first, and to be aware that there is a significant difference between short-term and long-term success.

When you prove your value as an employee, you earn credibility, the respect of stakeholders and the right to be heard.

2. If you don’t fit in being who you are where you are, then change where you are, not who you are.

I love this. The key to success in your career, and in life generally, is being able to be authentic and able to work in ways that are aligned with our values, in a place we feel like we belong and are accepted.

Too often too many of us try to change ourselves when we feel we don’t belong. We compromise on what we want and on our core values in order to fit in and be accepted. This never works in the long run and, even if you can keep the act going, it is not a happy way to live your life.

This does not mean that you can be uncompromising or inconsiderate, expecting everyone to accept you ‘warts and all’. You need to be aware of your impact on others and respectful of their values and differences. But you should never have to fundamentally change your personality or beliefs to conform to those around you.

3. Be strategic about how, and when, you show people who you are.

When you first arrive in a new role or organisation it is important to build your credibility before you start showing your ‘authenticity’. Fulfil your obligations in terms of what you are paid to do, and show that you understand the dynamics and culture of the business before you start recommending changes and improvements. You cannot complain about the problems in a workplace and start pushing your own agenda – for example, campaigning for greater diversity in the workplace – if you are not doing your job or if people don’t think you know enough about the business. People won’t listen if you haven’t built internal credibility.

4. Build relationships and sponsorship.

Doing a great job is, or should be, the cost of entry of being promoted and creating the career that you want. But doing a great job and being exceptional is pointless if no-one knows about it.

One of the critical factors to career success is business sponsorship and ensuring that the right people – the people who make the decisions – know who you are and the value you add. These are the people who will make the decisions about your career.

Your boss, your boss’ boss, your boss’ peers, your peers and your stakeholders: these are the people who will make the decisions about you. So you need to know what they think about you, the good and the bad. Ask them directly for feedback and learn from it. Don’t defend yourself. Practise courageous listening.

And yes, self-advocacy is important. There is a fine line between arrogance or boasting and self-advocacy. This is an important skill to learn.

5. Stop blaming others.

A lot of time can be wasted on being angry and blaming others. My favourite quote from Caroline’s presentation was this: ‘I am not saying that there will not be obstacles in your way, but I will say that the top 10 will be you!!’ Accept responsibility. Understand what is in your control and what you can change, then get on and change it.

6. Don’t make your problem everyone else’s problem.

In the workplace, as in life, you will encounter many different agendas, values and opinions. There is often no right or wrong – just variations. I like strawberry ice-cream and hate chocolate. You might love chocolate and can’t stand strawberry. Neither of us is wrong, evil, ignorant, stupid or difficult. We just have different opinions. My goal should not be to make you change your mind and realise that I am right. Sometimes we just have to agree to disagree. You may laugh at the ice-cream example but every day in the workplace and in life enemies are created and intentions misunderstood as a result of differences in opinions. Not every difference of opinion has to be a fight that you need to win.

Choose to believe in other people’s good intentions until or unless you find out otherwise. For example, just because a manager does not support a female employee for promotion does not necessarily make him a misogynist or prejudiced. Perhaps she just didn’t have the necessary skills or experience. Don’t judge others or assign ill intent if there is none.

7. Know the steps to success, and get the order right.

Like baking the perfect cake, the right ingredients and the right method for creating change are critical. If you get the sequence out of order you just have batter. Remember:

Do your job.

Build credibility, trust and respect with your peers, managers, stakeholders.

Build relationships with those who can make a difference and share your value with others.

Manage the guardrails. Compromise and be patient with others. Don’t make your agenda, your issues or your needs other people’s problems.

Start advocating for yourself and others.

As you review this list, ask yourself: What actions do I need to take to create the career I want and deserve?

I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts. Let me know.