Leading in Today’s Workforce: Let Your Personal Style Come Through

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You should never be afraid to let your personality and style come through.”

That has been a foundational statement for me during my career.

My first job out of college was working in the sales division for IBM. I always tell people that IBM was the Google of its day. As part of the role of becoming a sales associate we were all sent to “sales school” where we had to learn to sell the products, sell the benefits of those products, and extend the brand into the client organization.

It is more comfortable being you

As I look back on it, we all sounded like robots spewing the same information in the same structured style. It was not until I was back home in my sales territory that I actually worked with one of the “grizzled veterans.” As we made calls that day, I was on my best in presentation mode. I sounded just like I was back in sales school.

That is, I sounded like that until this old veteran told me over drinks at the end of the day that I had to let me true self come through. Be comfortable in your own skin, he said, because someone else’s will not fit. “Never be afraid to let your personal and style come through” Sid told me as he twirled the ice around in his drink.

We both laughed, but the more I thought about it, the more I understood exactly what he was saying. So, over the next few weeks I changed my approach to selling. I became more of my natural self as opposed to a product/benefit salesperson. I felt comfortable being me and it just seemed so natural. As as naturally happens when you do that, my sales went through the roof.

That advice has stayed with me through the ages. My wife and I were having a discussion the other night and she brought up old Sid and his wisdom and sayings. I told her “Thank God for Sid” because he actually changed my life.

The importance of being your natural self

As a sought after speaker on the international circuit in HR, I have attended over 23 conferences the past two years. My role has expanded from presenter to conference chair, which I always say is the MC of the event.

I like the way that you always start of your presentation by telling a story, and you basically just talk sans notes” one of the speaker’s told me as we talked during break. Hearing that, I had flashbacks of that famous quote from Sid.

Being comfortable in our own space is a must. As I watched the Brian Williams affair play out over the last few weeks, I could not understand how someone had reached the pinnacle of his career but felt the need to “pump himself up.” He was not satisfied with his inner self and that caused the embellishments.

Being the Big Shot in the room

I have a good friend who is extremely smart. Regardless of whatever interaction he is having, however, it’s not five minutes into any conversation before he mentions that he is a member of Mensa, the high IQ group. He just feels the need to “credential” himself so that people are aware of how smart he is.

When I mentioned that he should cool it, his comeback was that he was proud to be a member of this group. He could not understand that this was a prelude to being what I refer to as the “smartest person in the room syndrome”

It is not unlike when we are in social situation and right away people want to know what you do. I have come to detest that approach and my answer always is that I work in Human Resources. I would never mention a title or denote big shot status.

The alphabet soup of job title acronyms helps to inflate that same concept. One of my other friends, once he made VP, could not wait for someone to ask before he spouted out those two letters. It did not what matter the situation was; he would always make reference to the fact that he was a VP.

Credentialing is a 21st Century concept

Does it really matter? Just make the connection with a person without the credentials.

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This has nothing to do with you as a person. We all started out as gloriously authentic people, but over a period of time, whether it was wanting to be accepted or hanging with a crowd that we felt the need to impress, it was hammered out of us.

We latched on to a fictitious character and picked up the script. We did everything we could to be that imaginary person. Some people were lucky because the script they picked up mirrored their self-image. However, there are others who did the exact opposite and they can be spotted five minutes into a conversation.

Sadly, they are named phonies.

In this day and age of a culture-driven organization, it behooves all of us to periodically go back to the drawing board. Being authentic is a must-have competency and it is extremely hard to operate without it.

With so many of our projects today being team-driven, it is a must that we come across as authentic and not a shell of someone we are trying to be. People love to work for authentic leaders, but they hate the phonies.

Judging a book by its cover

All of us want to come across as impressive in showing that we have a command of what we do. However, when we embellish ourselves to the point that we begin to lose sight of who we are, that is the slippery slope that we are headed down.

We all want our personal “cover” to be the shiniest, most impressive cover we can manage to project. But, we must always be assured that our covers match who we are inside.

Embellishment, I think, shows a serious inferiority flaw. We need to puff it up because, deep down, we do not feel that we measure up. However the side effect of doing that is that you do not come across as the person you want to be.

Yes, you simply come across as an actor who is playing a role that they are not qualified or suited for.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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