It is said that feedback is a gift, but it can also represent a risk to you and your career.
Feedback often comes from someone in your organisation viewing you in the context of that organisation. It might be that you’re not quite as assertive as everyone else, or you’re too collaborative or maybe you’re not structured enough in your thinking.
While there may be some useful insights for your development in this feedback, too much conformity to organisational norms can result in a lack of diversity of thought and approach, which can stymie a team, limit creativity and affect individual motivation. Instead, we should all be battling conformity by thinking about what it is that makes us unique at work.
Understanding and taking advantage of this enables you to bring a distinctive and authentic source of value into the business, making you happier and increasing your individual impact. From my own career experiences, and those of coaching and mentoring others, I believe there are three areas to focus on to develop your unique impact at work: what you stand for, when you stand up and how you stand out.
1. What you stand for
Think of the best leaders you have known or are aware of. Chances are, they stand for something. For me, it’s women like Debbie Wosskow and Anna Jones, founders of AllBright, who aim to change the way the world thinks about female-led business; or Jayne-Anne Gadhia, chief Executive of Virgin Money, whose motto ‘everyone better off’ now drives the business forward.
Having something you stand for creates interest and debate. Not everyone is going to agree with you, and that is fine. However, it is a reason many people fear taking a stand.
There is safety in conformity and for some people, that will feel right. But, if you want to make an impact in your career and a unique, personal difference, working out what you believe in so passionately you are willing to stand up for it is key. If you’re not sure what this is for you, I’d suggest asking yourself:
- Who inspires you and why?
- What change would you like to see in the world?
- What movement (existing or imagined) would you feel proud to be a part of?
In these answers lie your clues and once you have them, you can think about how they could come to life at work. For example, a change I would like to see is more organisations encouraging ‘squiggly’ career paths so people are happier and more effective at work.
This comes to life through sessions I run at work, a podcast and an external network of like-minded change activists I have created. Once you have your focus, generating ideas about how you bring it to life becomes much easier.
2. When you stand up
Often at work, we’re heads-down, getting through our to-do lists and surviving days of back-to-back meetings. As a result, we’re often not consciously standing up for different projects or opportunities, either because the fog of busyness means we are not aware of them or because it’s driving us to purposefully avoid them. However, a career spent pursuing busyness takes your control away.
Busyness is often generated by other people, which means you’re working to their agenda. Being realistic, unless you’re your own boss, this is always going to be part of work, but it shouldn’t be all of it. It’s important that you make conscious decisions about when you stand up, otherwise you’ll just say yes to lots of things and add to the busy list.
I would like to see is more organisations encouraging ‘squiggly’ career paths so people are happier and more effective at work.
Think about what you want to achieve this year and one specific thing you could put your hand up for each quarter that would step you towards it. Let’s imagine you want to do a TED-style talk at the end of the year: the sort of things you might stand up for would be a large internal presentation, speaking at an external conference or training people internally on storytelling. These more conscious actions cut through the busyness to increase your impact and enable people to connect with you on a different level.
3. How you stand out
People are far more comfortable talking about what they aren’t than what they are. I often hear things like ‘I’m not creative’ or ‘I’m not smart enough’, but I rarely hear someone say ‘I’m great at building teams’ or ‘I’m great focusing our conversations on the customer’.
This generally stems from either a lack of self-awareness or a lack of confidence and part of the challenge is that people are too broad in their consideration of personal strengths. They think about leadership and communication as strengths and lack confidence in declaring themselves as ‘great’ in such big areas.
However, when they narrow it down and get more specific, they feel more comfortable in articulating what they are great at. For example, instead of saying ‘I’m great at leadership’ someone might say ‘I’m great at setting a vision for a team at the start of a new project’. This not only feels more comfortable and authentic, it’s also more credible and impactful for the people they share it with.
Busyness is often generated by other people, which means you’re working to their agenda.
To work out what yours might be, write down a list of 10 things you think you are good at. For each one, ask yourself what you specifically do and what value you uniquely create. In those answers, you may find a more specific and powerful strength that makes you stand out. Being able to articulate two or three stand-out strengths will attract more opportunities to showcase them and result in you being more associated with them as part of your professional brand.
A lot of the actions I’ve shared are about increasing your self-awareness. It’s about clueing in to what you are passionate about, what you want to achieve and what you are great at. Bringing these things to the forefront of how you work means you will be happier and have a more positive impact through the work you do and the people you do it with.
Helen Tupper is commercial marketing director at Microsoft and founder of Amazing If.
We’ll be doing a live Q&A about flexible working with Helen Tupper on Facebook Live at 3pm on Thursday, 3 May. Tweet us at @MarketingWeekEd with your questions or add a question to the comments via our live Facebook stream next Thursday.
To watch the live chat: https://www.facebook.com/MarketingWeekEd/