Get Ahead by Getting Over Yourself | Perceptions Count

sad businesswomanSelf-awareness is your friend.  Self-absorption your enemy.

Being fully cognizant of your skills and behaviors as they play out in the workplace is empowering. Being excessively involved in your own self-interests isn’t.

Self-awareness starts with humility. At work, it’s not all about you or me. It’s about the value you bring, with the needs of the work being more important than your needs.

If this sounds harsh rather than obvious, then you may want to rethink the way you see yourself in your job. It may mean the difference between getting ahead, going nowhere, or heading out the door.

Replace ego with we-go.

Jobs can be hard to come by these days, even though it’s been shown that we change jobs every 4-5 years. Reasons for changing are many, but usually it’s because advancement opportunities seem unlikely or we don’t “fit” what our jobs require.

Too often no one is leveling with you about why you’re unlikely to advance or giving you the feedback you need to “fit” the work successfully.

Sometimes you don’t get that feedback because your boss or coworkers sense that your ego–your self-absorption–is impenetrable. They suspect you’ll get defensive, resistant, or so emotional that their message won’t get through. So they take the avenue of least resistance and say nothing, assuming you’ll just self-destruct.

Workplace success is about “we,” as we-go, you go.

Self-awareness begins the cure for self-absorption. Looking at your behavior as it appears to others can be difficult, but if you want to build a sustainable career path, it’s essential.

Ask yourself and then others whose opinions you respect (not just those who will tell you what you want to hear) if you may come across as:

  • Needy–always wanting others to assist you
  • Insecure–continually asking for approval, praise, reinforcement
  • Superficial–caught up in what everyone will think about you
  • One-upping–stealing the show, taking credit, puffery
  • Shallow–being thin-skinned, over-reacting, defensive
  • Self-centered–making everything about you, selfish

None of these behaviors are terminal for your career. You just need to know how to wean yourself from them, since they aren’t doing your career any good.

Bring it.

We’ve gotten accustomed to living in a so-me world. Social media was lured us into creating our own personal celebrity on line. We are constantly out there telling the world to:

Look at me. Listen to me. Read me. Follow me.

The fact is that at work:

It’s not all about you. But a part of it is.

You were hired because you’re especially good at something important to the job.

It may be:

  • A skill–modifying software, writing snappy marketing copy, organizing documents
  • Subject matter knowledge–operating procedures, compliance regulations, PR
  • Abilities–writing, public speaking, defusing conflict, sales

Zero in on your strengths and knock yourself out developing them to their fullest. Bring those strengths to your work, volunteer to contribute them to other projects, and tell your boss that you’re more than willing to help out whenever those capabilities are needed.

Now it’s not about you; it’s about what you’re contributing to the company, your colleagues, and your boss. That’s the personal brand you want.

Be ready.

You get noticed for what you do well and consistently without complication or drama. You get ahead when others come to depend on you for your expertise, ask for your help, and recognize the value you bring.

As you build your core skills, you’ll also be developing new ones which will add to your arsenal. When what you’re about is not about yourself but about work, you’re career will soar. Be ready.

Photo from inspiredgiftofgiving.com

Want to Be Taken Seriously? Make Your Mark with Care.| Personal Branding Realities

The world is watching. You may like that and invite lots of eyes. You may hate it and try to minimize your exposure. Or you may be Marking Your Mark B 5503188585_563f776818_msomewhere in the middle.

Our careers depend on the perceptions of others: bosses, coworkers, and customers. By observing us, they determine whether or not we’re:

  • competent and trustworthy
  • cooperative and approachable
  • committed and reliable

The way we come across impacts whether or not we get:

  •  hired or promoted
  • positive ratings and good raises
  • heard and reinforced
  • chosen for plush assignments

Because your personal brand identity is a priceless asset, you need to manage it with care.

Your brand tattoo

Everything we say and do that others hear and see builds our personal brand. It’s how we manufacture public perceptions.

Social media is the ink that makes your image visible and lasting, creating waves of exposure for endless audiences.

Whether we do it consciously or not, every word and picture that we post online is our effort to present the image we want others to accept. It’s how we turn ourselves into a product that we promote.

If you want to be taken seriously in your career, you need a serious brand image. When your social brand conflicts with your professional one, you may end up with a lot of explaining to do.

Social media is a strategic branding platform. The evolution of your personal brand on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other sites becomes part of your indelible history.

You may end up having to rebrand yourself (which can be a difficult, time-consuming, and possibly unsuccessful task)  when your brand gets tarnished by:

  • those beach and bar Facebook pictures that depict an appetite for partying
  • harsh tweets that disparage political, business, and entertainment figures
  • endless inane and trivial Twitter posts
  • self-absorbed blog ramblings that lack substance

The way you present yourself online (either consciously or unconsciously) represents your brand management strategy–the way you want to be regarded by:

  • friends and family
  • the community and marketplace
  • professional associates and employers

It’s  incumbent on you to take steps to ensure that the image you put out there is one that you are comfortable exposing to everyone.

Remember: Your life is your business. Everything you put “out there” defines you, validates you, and positions you as either someone who adds value or doesn’t.

Keep in mind too that everything you see and read from someone else is their effort to build their own personal brand. Are you buying what they’re selling?

Your brand image is a major contributing factor to getting a job and keeping it.

Serious business

Strategic use of social media gives you a career leg up by helping you  build positive perceptions among those who can help you achieve success.

Posting information, adding thoughtful comments, and blogging enable you to showcase your knowledge, insights, passions, and communication skills.

There is often real, reportable payback like:

  • Visibility that differentiates you from other candidates for a job opening or promotion
  • Credibility validation helpful to consultants, therapists, and advisers
  • Connections with other thought leaders that can lead to professional collaborations
  • Invitations by businesses, other bloggers, and book publicists to partner with them

The key to success in any field is validation for what you know and do–and how you go about it.

If you don’t take yourself seriously and if you don’t exercise care with your personal brand image,  then the likelihood of your finding and sustaining a satisfying career is in jeopardy. It’s all in your hands.

Make your mark

Social media self-discipline and self-control are your friends. When you use them to stay focused on the career that you want and resist trying to one-up or entertain your “friends,” you will give your personal brand identity the boost it needs to sustain you through a fulfilling career. I’m pulling for you!

Photo from imatvi via Flickr

Taking Vacation? Its Career Value Is In Your Sound Bite

Nothing is more glorious than time off. When we get hired, our burning question after salary is usually about vacation days. 

That said, it’s been written that Americans often don’t take all their vacation time. In some cases it’s because we: 

  • Don’t want to fall behind
  • Worry that things will go wrong in our absence
  • Are reluctant to delegate
  • Lack confidence in our job security
  • Haven’t developed motivating interests outside of work 

Truth is: We need to take time off. Most of us are exhausted. We need downtime to build ourselves up. 

Vacations as differentiators 

Too often we fail to see how vacations enhance our personal brands at work. If we’re smart, we can use time off to build our image while refreshing ourselves. 

There are all kinds of vacations: 

  • Fun family trips that tighten our bonds with people we love
  • Stay-cations to catch up on domestic chores or launch new projects
  • Tours to historical, cultural, and scenic places here and abroad
  • Adventures to explore new places and challenge ourselves
  • Learning experiences—academic immersion programs, reading vacations, and skill building (gourmet cooking, painting, writing)
  • Hobby pursuits like antiquing, music, and sports
  • Volunteering in the community, for specific causes, and for global impact 

What you say about what you do on vacation contributes to the way your boss and colleagues see you. 

Be selective 

Today’s reality is that our boss and coworkers form opinions about us on the fly based on what we say and do and what others say about us. These bits and pieces of perception impact our brand. 

When it comes to vacations, it’s pretty standard that we’ll be asked these questions: 

  • Where are you going on vacation? (Before)
  • How was your vacation? (After) 

Your best answer is a sound bite. That’s what your coworkers want—a nugget that sums up your time off—something they’ll remember and/or pass along to their colleagues as a “did you know.” 

Each vacation highlight you share builds perceptions about what drives you.

Your vacation “reports” are cumulative. The more they are the same, the less interest and value they command. The more diverse they are, the more fascinating you become. 

Here’s the trick: You don’t have to take amazing, over-the-top vacations to create the buzz you want. You just need to do one thing that’s unique each time that sparks interest, even if it only takes a day or an hour. 

  1. I once worked with a VP who diligently took vacation every year with his young family which was a positive, for sure. However, for 14 consecutive years he took them to Disney World. When asked, “Where are you going on vacation?” he’d always answer, “To see Mickey.” He had an “I resist change” brand which his vacation pattern reinforced. Ulitmately, his career flat-lined. 
  2. I was a commercial horse breeder while I was a corporate manager. I used some of my company vacation time to buy or sell young thoroughbreds or broodmares. When asked about my vacations, I would mention the sales auctions and/or tracks I was going to and how I made out. The fact that I was involved in the horse industry added to my brand as a businesswoman willing to put myself out there. 
  3. A former colleague, deeply committed to animal rescue, spends part of her yearly vacation at the Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary in Utah as a volunteer. Her career continues to rise as someone with great talent willing to give back. 

Parlay your fun 

Vacations are opportunities to enrich ourselves, so we need to extract from them the experiences that fill us out. That’s the part of vacation that becomes the snippets we share at work. 

Vacations give us experiences that broaden our perspectives, make us happy, and remind us what really matters in life. When it’s your time, please take it. 

Photo from jonycunha via Flickr

Workplace Friends and Foes—Your Forever Network

Ever been to a high school reunion? Some former classmates look the same. Some you only “recognize” if they have a name tag. 

It’s not how people look that flips our memory switch. It’s their names that get us to remember how each person has been preserved in our minds: 

  • How they treated us (and we them)
  • How smart and/or accomplished they seemed to be
  • How they behaved alone, in groups, and with those they dated
  • If we trusted them, could confide in them, or could rely on them

What we remember is how they branded themselves. The same is true for us. 

Behavior traits stick. 

It’s tempting to blow off our high school image as not the real us. After all we were young, developing, and learning how to be grown-ups. 

It’s usually not what we did but the perceptions about “why” that stick for a long time. People remember. 

Every person who’s crossed our path is in our network. Right now, we either are or aren’t tapping those relationships. 

Your network grows every day through your interactions at work, in the community, among family, and on-line. Every impression you make sticks. 

When your name is mentioned and someone recognizes it, s/he has an impression or perception to share. That’s often how conversations start. Each mention, just like the @ on Twitter, reinforces perceptions. 

Everyone is a link to someone else. The degrees of separation keep shrinking. Just spend an hour exploring Linkedin and you’ll see the power of that. 

The multiplier effect of impressions is staggering. So if we want to succeed, we need to be mindful of how our behavior is perceived. 

Choosing to be friend or foe 

We work in competitive environments. Our companies compete to be profitable. We compete to be recognized, rewarded, and/or advanced in our careers. 

Everyone we work with is competing too. Often we’re competing for the same things: 

  • The boss’s attention or approval
  • A promotion
  • A big raise
  • Recognition or an award 

We might compete in a way that: 

  • Overshadows others, diminishes their efforts, and/or undercuts them
  • Engages others, showcases their efforts, or recognizes them
  • Presents an optimistic, can-do attitude or a self-important, hard-nosed one
  • Bullies our coworkers or motivates their enthusiasm to get work done
  • Panders to the boss or showcases our principles 

The way we compete brands us: Everyone watches. 

You at work is like you back in high school only older and wiser, hopefully. Everybody you work with remembers what you’ve done in their world and passes their perceptions along. Were you someone whom they trusted or someone they doubted? 

Networking is about your network. 

Like it or not we are brands. Everyone is labeling us, including ourselves. 

People who tell me they hate networking often presume it means connecting with new people and then developing some kind of tit-for-tat benefit. 

New people are valuable, but there are hundreds of people who already know you that you should be (re)connecting with to enrich your career. The question is: Why have you let those relationships wane and what’s keeping you from rekindling them? 

Is it because you’re unsure about how they see you and have let so much time go by? Remember: that answer goes both ways. 

Take stock. 

Periodic self-assessment is smart personal and professional planning. We learn by seeing ourselves through the eyes of our colleagues. If you have a chance to take a 360 degree assessment, that would be a great start. 

Otherwise, ask your coworkers their perceptions of you. Okay, that can feel uncomfortable for you and them, but you need to know. If you were a box of cereal, you’d want to know if your customers thought you tasted good enough to keep buying. 

Remember: Everyone you work with is in your network in some way forever. It’s good form to treat them well.  Be nice. 

Photo from CapitalK buy design via Flickr