Learning to Be Yourself

Over the last 38 years of my career I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve been a sales person, a technical support specialist, an engineer, a product marketing director, a researcher, and an executive, founder, and CEO. And if I look back on all the challenges and successes I’ve had in my career, the one thing I’ve learned is the need to “learn to be yourself.”

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Oscar Wilde

“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.” 
Judy Garland

Many books have been written about the characteristics of great leaders, and despite all the models and profound conclusions, we find successful leaders of every type. Look at emotional micro-managers like Steve Jobs, contrasted with servant leaders like William George, or hard-drivers like Jack Welch. They were all different in many ways, but each learned how to be their authentic self — and leverage these traits to achieve great things.

If you think about your career, you bring a set of talents, skills, and personality traits that are uniquely you. Maybe you’re a gregarious, outgoing person who builds deep empathetic relationships with others. Perhaps you are a quiet, introverted person with deep technical or artistic skills who can analyze data or solve problems in a unique way. Or maybe you’re a charismatic and natural team builder or leader.

And even as you grow, these core traits remain. I recently got together with a group of friends I have known from college, and as we were chatting and laughing together I realized that despite 30 years of life, families, children, careers, and changes, we are all pretty much the same way we were in college. I remember a comment a friend made to me many years ago: “people don’t really change, they become more and more the same.”

Throughout our careers we go through tremendous personal and professional development. We learn how to work with people, how to solve problems, how to lead — and we develop a wide array of technical skills. But the way we apply them is unique to each of us, and in the end we each bring our own unique combination.

In my case, I’m somewhat of an introvert (INTJ in the Myers Briggs lexicon) and struggle with tough people decisions, often letting problems go on longer than they should. While this trait sometimes created problems, it also means that I have always been forgiving and willing to let people have a second chance — so I build many long term relationships. Now that I’m aware of these traits, I’m much more careful in people-related decisions.

I recently talked with the CEO of a very successful company which was sold to a global conglomerate. He worked hard for 25 years to build this business and told me how he evolved from a highly prescriptive micro-manager into a “developer of people” as he grew older. Now, looking back, he realizes that while his own leadership style evolved, what he wishes he had done more is to “listen to his gut” rather than try mimic what he believed other leaders had done.

Becoming self-aware is not easy. If we’re lucky we have a coach, mentor, or spouse who helps. But in every business and career transition you face, if you just think about who you are and how you can bring your own unique strengths, perspectives, and skills to the table, you’ll be way ahead. And over time, with the help of others, you’ll achieve things you never thought were possible.

Josh Bersin writes and researches corporate talent, learning, leadership, and HR best-practices around the world. He is Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP and founder of Bersin by Deloitte. You can follow Josh here or on twitter josh_bersin.

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