I was chatting the other day—which happened to be International Women’s Day—to a female friend about the pressures she felt at work. The phrases ‘impostor syndrome’ and ‘overdelivering’ were used. She works in a male-dominated company, and bitter experience has caused her to internalise the notion that a woman needs to outperform the men around her to be taken seriously. I’ve heard quite a few women over the years with the same story to tell, though a lot does seem to depend on the professional area and on the culture of the company or organisation.
Anyway, our chat veered from the gender politics of the thing into the whole question of knowing and affirming one’s own worth at work.
Here are my Top Ten Commandments for anyone (female or male!) who finds themselves struggling with this area:
1. DEFINE YOUR DELIVERABLES. – Be focused, be proactive and be consistent. Don’t play the hero and set yourself impossible targets. Identify what counts as overall excellent performance in your book, and then clarify what it will take to deliver that. Most importantly, keep working and adjusting until you become your best—but know when good is good enough on certain tasks. Aiming for great can get in our way sometimes.
2. KEEP TRACK OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS. - Start a work journal or worksheet. At the end of each week come up for air and write down what you accomplished, completed, or even just tried. Remember: when we try something we always have a level of success, as, even when the outcome is not fully what we hoped for, the experience gives us crucial feedback. At the end of every month, look back and take it all in. Look at what you’ve done, not what is left to do, because the latter usually continues to grow anyway. Then, when you begin to notice the quality of your performance improving, you will naturally be motivated to commence a dialogue with your employer and place a value on getting the rewards you deserve—without feeling any sense of pushiness about these expectations.
3. LEARNING. - In this increasingly unpredictable ‘permanent revolution’ economy, it is important we continue to be open to learning, which is a great amplifier of our worth. Challenge yourself! Organisations now more than ever want employees with an ability to learn and adapt and stretch out of their comfort zone. Take ownership of this yourself and don’t wait for your organisation to map it out for you. As your own career manager this is your responsibility. And the very act of learning something new can have all sorts of positive knock-on effects in unexpected ways. So take the initiative.
4. MOTIVATION. – We know our motivation directly affects our performance. In order to maintain and realise our worth we need to be in the driving seat of our own career. We need consistency in our work behaviour and consistency in our work. Ebbs and flows are a luxury we cannot afford. Remember we need to become indispensable in our roles as this brings us worth and power. But word of caution: doing the same level and kind of work every day only works if we’re going about that work in the most impactful way. So keep amending and being mindful.
5. CHECK THE FACTS. - It is your job to know how much your skills and experience are worth in the current market. So… do some research. Look to see what people in your field make and what responsibilities the position usually includes. Reach out to people and go for those cups of coffee. You know that horrible habit we have of comparing ourselves to others? Well, here’s a way to turn it to your advantage.
6. SELF-AWARENESS. - Engage in regular mental self-detox to remove any toxic sludge. Clear the mental space you need to work on becoming more self-aware. People who overestimate their worth (we’ve all met them!) are arrogant and narcissistic. People who know their worth are just self-aware. Don’t forget that people treat you the way you think you deserve to be treated. So understand your behaviour and the style you are adopting within the workplace.
7. SET AND MANAGE EXPECTATIONS. - It is your job to set and manage expectations with your boss. It is not good enough to have your boss set her expectations of you without your setting your expectations in terms of resources needed to do your job. Put a worth on your job and request what you need in order to perform.
8. COMMUNICATION. - To show your worth and put a value on yourself you need to be an effective communicator. Build on success strategies like “Listening to understand and speaking to be understood”. Learn the art of asserting yourself nicely and saying “no” without creating rancour. This is a soft super-power.
9. WORK-LIFE BALANCE. – Do you accept time–poverty and constant stress as the price you must pay to escape money-poverty? Do you treat your non-working hours merely as a chance to recharge the batteries in time for your next clock-in? If so, then something is wrong. A person who truly values their worth in the workplace will also value their life outside of work.
10. DRESS FOR SUCCESS. - How we dress is a statement about where we are at and what we think we are capable of achieving. It is a form of communication. It is part and parcel of “Brand You”. You need to “act the part” to get to where you want to go. Get to know that part intimately (yes: visualise it) and then—dress accordingly.