The Importance of Being Ernest (or Bill or Mary, or Steve…)

Be yourself in businessYou’ve been hearing it your whole life, “Be yourself.” To be truly happy and productive, you should not let others limit your personality; don’t be what you think they want. Just be yourself.

I agree. The most successful people, including business people, are comfortable in their skins. However, when it comes to business situations – public speaking, a business meeting or proposal, a speech or even an interview, something odd happens to most human beings. Because of anxiety or fear or whatever, most people, when others’ eyes are on them, change into someone they are not.

So why is it so important to “be yourself” in business anyway? I’ve actually written in another article that, in business, there is nothing wrong with playing a role. And how does one get more comfortable and natural with others in business settings?

Here are a few truths to help as you strive to “be yourself” in your business dealings:

1) Successful business is more about expertise than personality.

At first, this may seem like I’m saying personality doesn’t matter. No. What I am saying is that, if you are really good at something, trust me, the other professionals around you won’t care much about your personality. This is a freeing thing; think about Steve Jobs. He would launch earth shattering new products in Levi’s and sneakers. And why could he do that? Because he was Steve flipping Jobs, and he was really good at something. Just understanding that your expertise is more important than your personality should be enough to help you relax and feel more natural.

That said, the more “different” you want to be, the better you need to be at something. Very valuable people are given more leeway because they are more valuable, not because they are more different. Takeaway: just get really, really good at something before you let your personality go too much.

2) Even “rough” personalities are okay, sometimes better.

If you are not funny, don’t try to be. If you are cranky, that’s okay. It is a myth that you must be a schmoozer to be successful. In fact, some of the best business relationships I’ve had are with people who, outside of work, I would have nothing to do with. However, their bruskness actually brought value to their business. I am naturally a people pleaser and shy away from confrontation. It is a weakness of mine. But I know some business folks who have zero problem surfacing and dealing with difficult situations. No, they are not warm and cuddly, but dangit, they get the job done.

Again, this speaks to value. Yes, I can get along with most anyone, but sometimes you don’t need a friend, you need a sheriff; someone to keep law and order and make sure everyone gets a fair shake.

In business, all personality types should be welcome and have value, one way or the other. Find where yours does, and lean into it.

3) People will admire your originality, even if they don’t say so.

We all want to be comfortable in front of others, and don’t let anyone tell you different. As you let more of your personality shine in your speaking and business dealings, you may get some raised eyebrows. You may even get some reprimanding. But, even those who shake their finger in your face secretly wish they could do the same as you. Many folks have just been buttoned down in front of people so long they don’t know how to do otherwise. It’s cliche, but just be you and things will work out.

4) You should like you, but don’t ask me to.

This is a mistake many make when “be yourself” discussions come up. Always remember, you have every right to be comfortable with yourself in public, but so do I. If you are boisterous and loud (and I am), you cannot ask someone who likes to keep it quiet to listen to your boisterousness. They have a right to say no. This is a risk of nonconformity; it is polarizing. On balance, though, it is worth it. But you are not allowed to be yourself at the expense of someone else.

That is the beauty of the business relationship; it is value for value, not conformity for conformity.

Bottom Line: Be great at something and you will have value to others, no matter your personality. Remember these truths and all your business dealings – public speaking, business proposals, watercooler chats – will get better.

Thanks for reading.

What do you think? Is is always alright to be yourself in business?



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