Tracy Ramsden reports on the rise of workplace individuality and how to harness your unique power for career success
‘I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.’ So said Oprah Winfrey. And as we all know, Oprah is right about everything. According to a raft of new books, career success in 2018 is all about identifying your unique power in order to maximise opportunities.
‘When was the last time you thought about what your workplace strengths are?’ says Rachel Bridge, author of Already Brilliant: Play To Your Strengths In Work And Life (£13.99, Piatkus). When a group of academic psychologists* asked people to name them, they found that only a third were able to pinpoint what they were good at. ‘You could have had a lifetime of praise, but human nature means we’re more likely to hold on to the few criticisms we’ve received instead,’ adds Bridge.
Ask friends what you’re good at (and bad at)
Fortunately, there are ways to identify your unique workplace strengths. ‘Email or text eight of your friends and family from different parts of your life – childhood, work, relatives – and ask them to describe you in three words,’ advises Bridge. ‘They are going to give you fairly positive traits, but don’t think about the individual responses too much. Instead, look for common themes that surprise or please you. It gives you an insight to how others see your strengths.’
The single most powerful thing is realising that you don’t have to be good at everything. ‘The most successful people in the world aren’t – they’ve just identified that one thing they’re really great at and excelled in it.’ The focus is to move away from self-improvement and towards individuality. Crucially, it’s about not giving too much airtime to the stuff we can’t do. Another way to pin down your unique power is going back to your old school reports. ‘Ignore the negative “must do better” comments and pull out the positive qualities that may have become buried over time – determination, focus, optimism,’ says Bridge. ‘These things are in there, they may just need digging out.’
Experts agree it is often through challenging circumstances that our true power emerges. In an increasingly unpredictable job market, there are also ways to build your resilience in preparation for the unexpected. Last year, trainee lawyer Susie, 28, took herself out of the corporate world and into the wilderness with a week-long charity climb of Kilimanjaro. ‘Before I went, I was more concerned about being cut off from my phone for a week and whether my fitness levels were good enough,’ she says. ‘But I was surprised to discover I thrived in extreme environments, developing team-playing skills, problem-solving and an inner strength I didn’t know was there. Now, when I’m back at my desk faced with work challenges, I try to draw on those experiences.’
Workplace strengths you can discover while out of office
As the workplace flexes and bends – with less jobs for life and more opportunities for portfolio careers – it has become increasingly important for individuals to create and manage an authentic personal brand, according to Coral Garlick, founder of Brand Me Collective, a networking and mentoring community for female founders. ‘Our personal brand should be something that outlives the job role we are currently in,’ says Garlick. ‘It is not unusual for people to manage a couple of different roles at the same time. Who you are needs to be part of a much bigger strategy. Whether entrepreneurs or employees, individuals must be mindful of presenting a consistent representation of yourself that positions you where you want to be. Think about who you are, why you do what you do and how you plan to communicate that with colleagues, employers and the wider world.’
But what if you still can’t quash the negativity gremlins that threaten to hold you back? ‘It’s about turning them into workplace strengths,’ says Bridge. ‘So impatience means you don’t procrastinate and are good at getting things done. Low confidence means you’re always checking and questioning. Bossy? You’re a natural leader, and shyness means you’re cautious and watchful. Not bad traits at all, really.’
Fittingly, when it comes to mapping out the path that will propel you towards the best version of you, self-motivation is fundamental. Innovations in technology mean there are better opportunities for networking and PR. Woman-to-woman mentoring schemes, such as those offered by Brand Me Collective and Mentor MatcHER, also offer great opportunities for ongoing support from like-minded professionals. But ultimately, nobody is going to come to you and tell you how to progress your career, or hold your hand while you decide how to make the most of your job – you have to do that bit yourself. ‘And when you stop being a passenger and start steering your own career path, that’s empowering,’ adds Bridge. ‘There are exciting opportunities for people who take control.’
*Study by Hill, 2001