In this authentic, transparent, share-everything age, how do you show up at work? How much of yourself do you reveal, and how much do you conceal? Most people, if they think about it at all, answer the question by deciding to put their best foot forward, sharing some of the inner person, but a little better dressed, so to speak. Just as you wouldn’t wear your pajamas to work (or at least to the office), nor should you bring the worst parts of you to share with your colleagues. Honesty, authenticity, yes, but to a point.
Leaving the whole idea to chance is also not a good idea. Your just-the-way-I-showed-up-today persona is not good enough in this era of personal branding and virtual exposure. You have an endless to-do list in your head, and on some days that will energize you. But on too many days, that will make you distracted, scattered, or grumpy. Is that really the way you want your colleagues to think about you? People will remember you for a few memorable moments–your greatest and least hits. Don’t be defined by the accidental extremes of your day-to-day life. Instead, work out what you are most comfortable being on your best days, when your suit is pressed, your hair is done, and your heart is pure. We say of ourselves, “I was having a bad day,” when we do something clumsy or awkward or stupid. When someone else has a bad moment, we attribute it to their personality. “He’s a difficult colleague.” Don’t let yourself be defined by your worst workdays. Instead, be defined by your best.
Are you a former academic with deep subject knowledge? Do you demonstrate plenty of expertise, but perhaps come across a little lacking in the warmth category? Or are you a happy extrovert, delighted to talk to anyone, but with less of an ability to convey your expertise?
Let’s call this version of you your persona. It’s that best version of you that you are going to bring to the workplace and ultimately a successful career. When I work on personas with my clients, most people say they want to evince some mixture of competence or expertise, on the one hand, and warmth or trustworthiness, on the other. Various measures of executive presence suggest that a strong showing at both ends of the polarity of competence and warmth adds up to charisma to the extent that this somewhat mysterious quality can be measured. At the simplest level, mastering this polarity means that you seem to know what you’re talking about, and you do so in a relatable, not boring, way.
But charisma still remains a bit elusive, it is that certain something that makes a person magnetic. A charismatic politician or movie star walks into a room and draws all eyes–the center of attention. I’ve met several of the recent presidents and each of them demonstrates this ability in different ways. How do they do that?
Developing that kind of charisma takes two steps that most people never get very far on. First, knowing as objectively as possible how you come across now, so you know where you start. Second, giving yourself permission to change that to a more desired outcome. Here’s where that polarity helps get you started. Are you a former academic with deep subject knowledge? Do you demonstrate plenty of expertise, but perhaps come across a little lacking in the warmth category? Or are you a happy extrovert, delighted to talk to anyone, but with less of an ability to convey your expertise?
Once you decide what your desired outcome is, then you can begin to work on either end of the polarity to develop your persona further. Let’s say you want to warm up your presence, because people have told you that you come across as a little dry. Plenty of expertise–you really know your stuff–but not enough pep.
…be keenly aware of the shelf life of your expertise. Nothing is more tedious than holding forth about something that was relevant decades ago. Increasingly, we live in an ahistorical era, with a vanishing memory for past triumphs.
If that’s the story about you, then you need to warm up your facial expressions in particular, and body language in general, to come across as more open, welcoming, and engaging. It starts as simply as smiling more, and continues with using your eyes, your eyebrows, your face, and your hands more expressively. Or you could work on feeling more friendly, and let your emotions drive your body language. Usually, most people manage a mixture of both. They try to eliminate the most egregious body language tics that signal coldness (unintentionally) to other people and attempt to warm up their attitude.
If, on the other hand, you believe that you’re already personable enough, you may need to add an element of seriousness to be more appreciated for your expertise. Then you want to reverse the process, smiling less and working to become a little less expressive, instead adding a bit more gravitas.
Of course, it’s not a simple either/or, and there are many shades of charisma and many successful styles. This initial schema is simply a way to begin thinking about what is otherwise a rather elusive topic to grapple with, especially in attempting to apply it to yourself.
If you took a 360 evaluation, you’d want your successful, job-enhancing persona to score high in a couple of areas. How will your colleagues talk about you?
- First, you want to demonstrate empathy. At the simplest level, you want them to say that you understand other people’s problems, those of your colleagues. You have walked the proverbial mile–or at least the hallway–in their shoes, and you get their challenges and opportunities.
- Second, you want to have some job-securing expertise. You want your colleagues to believe that you are the go-to person for some key aspect of your organization’s purpose. But not to be tiresome about it–no droning on and on about some rabbit hole you went down because you couldn’t resist showing off your stuff.
You want to be able to pick your moment and wear your expertise lightly. It’s impressive to save an impending work disaster by pulling the software rabbit out of the hat, but it’s even more impressive to do it without breaking a sweat.
And be keenly aware of the shelf life of your expertise. Nothing is more tedious than holding forth about something that was relevant decades ago. Increasingly, we live in an ahistorical era, with a vanishing memory for past triumphs. So don’t insist on them. In the workplace today, you always must be looking forward.
- Finally, accomplish this tall order with just a smidgen of humor or wit. The work is hard, the workplace stressed out, and we can all use a laugh. So don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t make the humor at others’ expense because that can seem cruel. Instead, poke gentle fun at yourself. You’ll come across as stronger (and more likeable) for it.
Thinking about your persona as a unique mix of empathy, expertise, and wit will allow you to find the right approach for your subject matter and for your workplace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Nick Morgan is a leading expert in rhetoric and body language and a highly sought-after public speaking coach. Trusted by some of America’s most influential celebrities and thought leaders, he can help you take your public speaking to a world-class level. For more information, please email [email protected] or visit https://publicwords.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook @DrNickMorgan.