We live in a seemingly extroverted world, where strong communicators with charming personalities and defined characters are the image of success. Or, at least, that is the predominant definition sold to us in the media. But half of the world is filled with introverts too—quiet, smart professionals that do not necessarily need to make noise to pull attention upon themselves. They shine because of their inner power, a more truthful source than their peculiar tone of voice. Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, and Marissa Mayer are examples of the many thoughtful, introvert and yet successful leaders.
In the sphere of business, however, it is not always easy to balance our personal brand against what it is expected of us to say, to do or how to behave to safeguard the brand of a corporation. According to the book Online Personal Brand: Skill Set, Aura and Identity by Mattheu Frischmann, “it seems everything works out well when your personal brand coincides with a company brand, but it is unlikely that you agree to all of the expected behavior of your employer, so you will have to conform at some point.”
The central idea here is how our personalities match a given organization and how to be authentic amid the social and working demands. “There’s real tension between authenticity and conformity. How much to stand out, how much to fit in. I’m deeply aware of the value of not losing your identity, not losing what makes you unique. But you do need to do some balancing. Don’t compromise your authenticity to such an extent that it puts your soul in play. It will make you miserable and will also backfire, because in the end gravitas rests centrally on your true identity.” —says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, economist and founder of the American think tank Centre for Talent Innovation.
We have all met innate leaders, people we recognize immediately because they inspire confidence, they seem smart, balanced and elegant, and that is mainly because they speak as themselves. In the modern, globalized corporate world, however, emphasis on self-promotion and networking may put immense pressure over employees: Introverts acting like extroverts; extroverts becoming arrogant; women conforming in male-dominated places; color employees altering their behavior among white co-workers; shy employees compromising their personalities.
But rather than conform or compromise, we should learn to embrace the natural strengths that makes us unique. Introverts can shine by fostering their calm, thoughtful approach; women can give a different viewpoint; extroverts can express their ideas with kindness and respect. Hewlett says: “If you have a certain range of differences around decision-making tables in all industries, you’re much more likely to have innovative ideas. Differences really do unlock innovation and drive growth. Business leaders must create environments where everyone, regardless of color, gender or sexual identity, feels comfortable being themselves.”
Some new, upcoming organizations show these tendencies: Rigid vertical structures are replaced by horizontal structures; reflections and ideas of individuals are valued and considered; personal branding is promoted; creativity is fostered. Some large corporations provide their employees with workshops and training on personal branding as part of their career development because they understand that a powerful personal brand reflects well on their company brand as well.
But it is good to remember that success is an inside job. You can and should be professional at work and still be true to yourself by knowing your limits, what is negotiable and what is not. A certain amount of flexibility is desirable here, sometimes we must bend our character to fit in, but just to a point that is reasonable. Otherwise, when we lose fundamental aspects of our personalities, like acting tough when we are innately gentle, we become less good versions of who we truly are, and our potential is limited.
So, you should strive for authenticity. Foster your self-confidence and the unique strengths that you bring to the table. Use those natural gifts to your advantage, respecting the values of the organization you are in. By contributing to the workplace in authentic and meaningful ways, you will do your best work, and you will make a positive, lasting impression, with good input for the benefit of the whole society as well.
Paula Arellano Geoffroy