I was moderating a panel on leadership for a client of mine and received the bios of the three very accomplished executive panelists. All three bios were simply a list of credentials— impressive credentials, but that was it.
There was nothing human. Nothing personal. Nothing that gave the audience any understanding of their thoughts on leadership or success. This robotic resume in prose form is all too common, and it erases our most valuable asset: our humanity. Especially in our digital world, being yourself—your unique, human self—gives you a distinctive competitive edge.
Yet somehow we have been led to believe that at work, we must diminish our humanity, behaving (and appearing) like robots who are prized for their automation and conformity. When we get to the office, we leave our true selves at the door, ramp up our “work” mindset and keep our human traits muzzled until we leave for the evening. The belief that we need to be as efficient as an LED bulb and as knowledgeable as Wikipedia, as productive as an assembly line and as human as a doorknob, might have worked in the industrial age, but we have been in the relationship economy for decades.
Today, we can’t afford to forget the one ingredient that’s essential for business success— humanity. After all, relationships are the currency of business. More than ever, business is a truly human endeavor.
A recent Harvard Business Review article “Why Do So Many Managers Forget They’re Human Beings?” by global-leadership expert Rasmus Hougaard, says the problem is even more pronounced when it comes to leaders. “The problem is about 70% of leaders rate themselves as inspiring and motivating – much in the same way as we all rate ourselves as great drivers. But this stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A survey published by Forbes found that 65% of employees would forego a pay raise if it meant seeing their leader fired, and a 2016 Gallup engagement survey found that 82% of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring. In our opinion, these two things are directly related.”
With the rise of AI and robots entering the workplace, human beings have an unprecedented opportunity to offer something different and compelling in the workplace. Irate customers have limited patience for automated assistance, and even the customers who aren’t irate will notice when your organization communicates with a human touch. It’s never been so easy to compete with your electronic co-workers. Ironically, technology is making people more human. When you are willing to be an empathetic, caring person, you’re able to connect on a deeper, more emotional level with stakeholders. What’s more, the principles of personal branding, paired with the tools of digital branding, help you broadcast your humanity and the traits that make you unique:
1. Know yourself. Understand what makes you, you. Be willing to bring your unique value to work. The first step in successful personal branding is becoming self-aware.
2. Be Curious. Being interested in others is much more important than being interesting. Make it a point to get to know—really know—the people you work with. Know what’s important to them, along with their quirks and their dreams.
3. Be Generous. That means putting others first and showing you genuinely care. It’s about acknowledging others, expressing gratitude and making sure those around you know you appreciate them for the value they deliver.
4. Exhibit modesty. No one likes a braggart. Don’t tell people that you’re smartest person in the room; show them your value through your actions. Humility is an attractive brand attribute.
5. Encourage individuality. Help others drop the robot mindset. Give them permission—or a mandate—to integrate more of what makes them human into everything they do every day.
6. Resist conformity. At work, there are times when conformity makes sense. When you’re adding the company logo to your PowerPoint deck, for example, you can’t make it purple because it’s your favorite color if your company logo is green. But when it comes to the aspects of your job that involve other people, being a conformist will work against you. Instead, be willing to stand out. Avoid tired jargon. Speak with your own brand of clarity.
Ultimately, the most important message of personal branding is “Be yourself.” There’s only one of you, and the world of work would be missing an important ingredient if you weren’t willing to proudly share who you are. So be human. Those around you will appreciate it, and you’ll actually enjoy work more.
By William Arruda
The author surveyed 5,600 workers from various industries from January 2019 to December 2021, finding that worker dissatisfaction not only starts as early as age 25 — it’s been here since before the pandemic started. Her advice: aim for work-life alignment, not work-life balance. Find out what drives them as an individual — and reshape their jobs together. Engage them in the recruiting process.
There’s been a lot of buzz about a 4-day workweek. But it will be the ‘4 + 1’ workweek that ultimately wins out: 4 days of “work” and 1 day of “learning.” Several forces are converging in a way that point toward the inevitability of this workplace future.
How can leaders help their teams combat change exhaustion — or step out of its clutches? Too often, organizations simply encourage their employees to be resilient, placing the burden of finding ways to feel better solely on individuals. Leaders need to recognize that change exhaustion is not an individual issue, but a collective one that needs to be addressed at the team or organization level.