Think of three adjectives that describe you. You could probably do this pretty easily — think back to your first job application. Now for some clarifying questions: When are you like that? Where are you like that? With whom are you like that? At this point, you might be a bit puzzled. You might think, “That’s me all of the time, wherever I am and whomever I’m with.”
For most of us, this is not 100 percent true. Almost all of us are affected by the when, where and who — and often to a greater extent than we realize.
Take Doug. He is an outspoken, direct, positive, confident person who values being transparent in his dealings with others, speaking his mind and giving people the benefit of the doubt.
Right now, Doug works for Abel, Brown and Chimney, an established real estate developer filled with people who seem smart, polite and professional. During one of his first leadership meetings, Doug presents some ideas for new business. He is met with agreement but not much enthusiasm. “Yes, those are definitely good ideas worth considering,” Doug’s colleagues say, nodding. Though slightly confused, he tells himself they’re just not an effusive group of people.
Later, two of the people in the meeting tell Doug that his ideas, as presented, really won’t work at ABC. They avoided their objections to spare his embarrassment. Public unpleasantness is not the ABC way.
At the next meeting, Doug gives an updated pitch. He had good ideas, but he’s convinced they needed modification to fit with ABC’s portfolio. Again, he is greeted to nods but little else. A short while later, an executive committee member pulls Doug aside and tells him that John Chimney, ABC’s managing partner, is getting irritated that Doug keeps renewing the same dreadful, unworkable idea.
What? Doug didn’t hear anything about his ideas being dreadful in the meeting. John even nodded in agreement! Doug’s confidence plummets. He’s shocked his fellow team members didn’t tell him sooner.
In future meetings, Doug is careful not to be too outspoken — he doesn’t want to develop a bad reputation so early in his tenure. But after every meeting, he meets with others to learn what is really happening at the firm. To the best of their knowledge, they tell him.
Doug no longer acts like himself. Now he acts more like the people he used to hate working with, the ones he called “political animals” who’d say one thing publicly and do another privately. When he talks about his day with his wife, he tells stories about keeping quiet, not knowing who to trust and doubting his ideas and creativity. He isn’t as optimistic or upbeat anymore because deals can “go south” quickly at ABC. While his colleagues are seldom fired, low-performers are placed on the “B-Players List” they’re sure exists somewhere in the business world.
Doug has changed, but sadly Doug is not hypothetical. We have seen him and others like him who adapted to be someone they never wanted to be.
Of course, good organizations can have the opposite effect as well — they can improve our performance, management style and confidence. No matter your personality, if you can join an organization that is upbeat, fast-paced and supportive when employees take risks, you will likely pick up those same traits.
The bottom line? In past columns we have talked about the importance of working in settings where the culture is consistent with your values. Culture that matches your personality and work style is important too. With the right fit, you’ll naturally act like the person you want to be.