In the Disney movie Mulan, the protagonist defeats the Huns because she accepts who she is: a girl who knows how to wield a sword as well as a fan. Mulan, as the Stevie Wonder and 98 Degrees credit song goes, stays “true to [her] heart.” In doing so, she saves China, receives recognition and respect from the nation’s citizens, and reunites with her family.
The analogy might seem a little juvenile, but there’s something to be said for staying true to what makes you who you are. If you want to champion workplace equality, you shouldn’t lock down your emotions or don a mask of masculinity.
You should embrace the skills, experiences, knowledge, and personality traits that shape who you are as a person. They set you apart from your colleagues and make you a strong leader capable of advancing in and improving the workplace. The following tips will show how you can use who you are to your advantage.
Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Assess where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Mulan, for example, couldn’t climb a pole using her own strength, so she used her intelligence to figure out a way to shimmy up it. Follow her example.
Go a step further by taking a personality test. The test will reveal not only how you act but also why—and the why is a game changer. It helps you understand yourself as well as your responses to others.
You could pay oodles of money for a personality test, but if you’re on a budget, have no fear. Time, in collaboration with Cambridge University’s social sciences department, offers a Harry Potter personality quiz that gives you some decent insights into your behavior and skill set.
“Be confident” probably comes across as trite advice, but confidence is needed to win in the workplace. Many women, however, tussle with the quality, and some admit the problem starts long before employment.
According to Girlguiding’s 2016 survey, roughly 74% of girls aged 7 to 10 feel confident and say “I can do anything if I try.” The percentage plummets to 40% for girls aged 17 to 21.
To bolster your confidence, return to your strengths and weaknesses. Remember what you’re good at and what you’ve accomplished. Celebrate those strengths and build on them. Honing an existing skill almost always leaves you feeling more confident and content.
Also create a circle of friends and mentors who support you as a person and a professional. They will encourage you when you lack confidence or make a mistake. Remember to rest and recharge, too. Lazing about for a while can be a good thing, so hush the voice that says you should be working and instead reading a book, watching a movie, or going for a hike.
Share Your Knowledge
Susan L. Colantuono at Motto: Words to Live By says there are three keys to success—but we are only taught two of them. You probably already possess two of those keys—attaining greatness personally and helping others achieve greatness—since they relate to how you contribute to a company’s success and how you engage with others.
The third—creating and maintaining extraordinary outcomes—often receives little attention, which could be because it doesn’t cater to people who already understand that this skill leads to career advancement.
Because of that, develop your acumen in whatever industry you find yourself, and demonstrate it in business strategies and planning sessions. Showcasing your skills and sharing your knowledge can go a long way in helping you be successful in the workplace.
Become a Mentor
If you want to promote your leadership skills and devotion to the company without self-promotion, become a mentor. You may join a formal program, but informal mentee-mentor relationships work well too. Either way, motivating others to excel ensures everybody wins, a point noted by Nicole Fallon, a managing editor at Business News Daily.
Fallon shares that mentoring, both formally and informally, creates stronger workplace bonds, boosts confidence, encourages risk-taking, and establishes stronger listening skills. Mentoring can also increase workplace accountability and cause you to reevaluate long-held values and opinions. Basically, mentoring will likely stretch your skills and develop some new ones.
Be a Big Sibling
Many people shy away from being aggressive because they fear being perceived as pushy. However, aggression operates perfectly when augmented with empathy. Josephine Fairley at The Telegraph calls the skill “constructive aggression” because it entails “having the chutzpah to move projects on when you find yourself pushing at closed doors.”
If you dislike the term “aggression”, think of the concept another way. You’re acting no different than a big sibling would. Big siblings, at least once they get past the teenage years, care about what their younger siblings think and do everything in their power to protect their siblings’ interests. So find out what your co-workers or employees care about, and use that knowledge to benefit your company.
Remember the Elephant
Women also sometimes feel they need to act more like men in the workplace, but that seems downright silly. You are unique, possessing a blend of skills, experiences, and attributes no one else does. Maybe you are more sensitive than the guy sitting next to you at the conference table. More power to you. The workplace needs people who can empathize with and relate to others.
However, that sensitive nature can get you into trouble if you forget the elephant. “Elephants,” explains Jessica Miller-Merrell at Workology, “may be sensitive souls, but they have incredibly thick skin. Nothing can penetrate it, not even a snide or passive-aggressive comment from a co-worker or colleague.” Miller-Merrell also encourages people to think about time and place—that is, there is a time and a place for emotional fallout, but it rarely occurs inside the boardroom.
Be Water, Not a Rock
When Caroline Beaton, Forbes contributor, spoke with human resources (HR) managers, recruiters, and CEOs, she discovered they increasingly look for people with a combination of required technical skills and desired soft skills.
Some of those skills hold as standards. Things like communication and collaboration continue to be important. However, Beaton’s interviewees share other skills described as “under-discussed, rare, and essential in the modern workforce.”
Beaton’s research covers four soft skills, but the one to note here is agility, sometimes used in place of flexibility or adaptability. This skill asks you to be water and relates to, as Beaton says, “the ability to overcome.”
You possess that skill. You’ve overcome many obstacles to get to where you are today. But you likely didn’t reach that point by being a rock. No, you acted more like a wave of water, staying still or crashing with fury as needed. Remember and continue to harness that ability as you lead in the workplace.
Develop Your Problem-Solving Ability
Both LinkedIn and Monster report a need for employees who think critically and solve problems creatively. Bloomberg’s 2016 Job Skills Report uses terms like “strategic thinking” and “analytical thinking,” noting recruiters target people who possess them.
Employers desire employees who reason through difficult situations and devise solutions to them. They don’t want to hire automatons, nor do they want to babysit new employees. They want independent thinkers who align with the company’s goals.
To develop your problem-solving skill, and it is one that requires regular exercise to get stronger and more habitual, practice close observation during routine activities, such as driving to work or exercising at the gym. Also think before you speak and consider an issue and try to see it from a multitude of angles. Then, share a couple of solutions and back them up with data and patterns of behavior. Doing so not only demonstrates your knowledge but also increases your value to the company.
If you want to kill it at work while staying true to who you are, find out what your heart says. Determine your strengths and weaknesses. Once you know them, you will be equipped to either reinforce or develop the skills needed to advance in the workplace and make a positive difference in co-workers’ and colleagues’ lives.
Shea Drake is a writer in Salt Lake City where she enjoys all things related to tech, personal development, photography, and becoming a better leader. A firm believer in that everyone is the master of their fate, she writes on how to emphasize your strengths without completely changing who you are. You can find more of her writings and thoughts on Twitter @SheaDrakePhoto.