Own Your Charisma!

Posted In: The Office
Posted On: 10/10/2014

This past Wednesday, I was having a leisurely glass of wine with two friends discussing movies and past jobs and yellow pencil skirts when somehow the conversation took an unexpected turn. To frame up the scene, Liz is in her thirties, Sandy is in her forties and me, well, I still can’t believe it, but I’m in my fifties.  Both gals shared a story of being in a situation where they were trying to be all business and their male counterpart viewed them as potential date material instead.  Since these are their stories, not mine, I will refrain from the details but I can say that the experiences were frustrating, confusing and resulted in this question being posed: What is the role of femininity in the workplace? This is one of those big, hairy, audacious questions that make a lot of executives want to change the topic as quickly as possible.  Or as I recall being told early in my career; you don’t want anyone to notice you are a woman, just be known for your good work. Jane Knows one thing for sure: that is crap. Each of us brings our own unique personality to the workplace and although good work is critical to success, so is being your own

Each of us brings our own unique personality to the workplace and although good work is critical to success, so is being your own person. 

person. I love dressing up for Halloween and this flight attendant outfit was one of my favorite costumes ever.  I accompanied it with an ice cream cart and thereby started a tradition at my old company, Rudi’s, where I would serve everyone in the office a custom sundae.  Serious business persona?  Not so much.  100% Jane?  You betcha. But I was the CEO, so it was easier to be the “me” that I am.  After all, the person at the top does dictate the tone of an organization. So what if you are starting your career or are somewhere in between?

Here are my five tips for figuring out your successful business style:

1)   Understand the culture.  In my career, I have worked for informal cultures and formal cultures.  As you might imagine, I work better in an informal culture, but I learned how to navigate the more formal ones.  (See “Are They Trying to Turn You Into a Stepford Wife” in my book for specific tips.)

2)   Watch how others succeed.  See what works in your office.  Who is getting ahead and why?

3)   Pay attention to what works for you.  When do you feel like you are really being heard?  What did you do that got a positive response?

4)   Solicit feedback.  It is super hard to ask for feedback because most of us want to think that we are doing everything perfectly all the time.  But generally, we can’t see what we need to do better while it is always crystal clear to others.

5)   Do a gut check.  Are you being yourself or someone else?  It is one thing to flex your style and entirely another to feel like you are living in someone else’s body.  If it is the first, then you are probably in an okay place.  The second, well it might be time to dust off the old resume and think about finding a place where you can be you. But those are general tips, not specifically answering the question about femininity.  To that I say again; do good work and do it in a way that is real for you.  I am a girl, will always be a girl, love being a girl and I believe that my girl-ness has been one of the secrets to my success.  (Having written that, I have a chapter in my book called “I Like My Boobs” and there I suggest that you dress for work like you want to be heard, not like you want to get laid.) To use Liz’s term, one that I love and will plagiarize shamelessly: Own Your Charisma!  So, when that male counterpart asks you out on a date instead of hiring you, don’t blame yourself for sending the wrong signal.  Instead, understand the power you have in that situation.  The power to date or not to date.  The power to be yourself.