Five Ways to Empower Your Unique Working Style
Several years ago, when I got my first consulting job, it did not take me too long to realize one of the “perks” mistakenly not mentioned in my contract was the triggering of my imposter syndrome.
Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
At the time, client interactions or meetings with the leadership, large board rooms filled with the executives, started to feel the same within few months – similar faces, similar demographics, and similar professional backgrounds—a lot of ‘similars’ there triggered it. Eventually, I realized my feeling of being an imposter made me afraid to accept new challenges at work, almost to the point of avoiding possibilities of growing into leadership.
It took some contemplation and a couple of helpful management courses until I figured my unique working style could be a source of power and not fear. Today, as I work with nonprofit organizations more closely, I observe most of them struggling to address the lack of diversity in their inner circle of Boards, Trustees, and Staff. The most popular solution used to address this challenge is to hire more people of color. While this solution is helpful (and encouraged), it does not go quite far enough. Diversity also means encouraging the diverse working styles of all the team members so that as they can progress to leadership roles, and so they feel welcomed to bring various perspectives. In this article, I will share five ways to empower the unique workstyle that makes you who you are. In other words, a style that defines your brand.
Empowering and embracing your unique brand means understanding why it is essential to build it, and most importantly, manage it amidst all the leadership styles around you. By uncovering and accepting your brand, you get to explore your potential and communicate who you are. So, where do you begin?
#1: Internal: Build authentic relationships directly within and outside the team
With remote work here to stay, it is challenging to maintain relationships with colleagues. We no longer have the luxury of quick chats in the kitchen or short walks around the block for a salad. The most mentally and physically exhausted brain can manage to focus on the professional to-do lists and the zoom calls. I am sure by now you are already reminded of the office ritual you were used to with your desk buddy. Our relationships with our work friends have taken a hit. However, connection with people is the foundation of a brand. So, devise smart ways – be it 10-min bi-weekly check-in or blocking 2-hour Friday afternoons for the catchups/virtual coffees. Make sure that you carve out time to know people not just in your team, the new joined, the soon-to-be leaving colleague, but, really as many as you can. The more you learn about the full breadth of your internal team, the more you realize the strength you have.
#2: Internal: Collaborate on knowledge advancement initiatives
My inbox has 2-3 webinar invitations, 1-2 training announcements, and a few emails on learning resources on a typical day. As much as I appreciate the world’s effort to keep the student spirit on in me, sometimes, it is overwhelming to attend or learn anything new after the day’s meetings and to-dos. Here is an opportunity for you. You can set up internal 30 mins/45 mins of bite-size training sessions – be it fundraising basics (tweaked for your Nonprofit) or some excel best practices or something unique about your job. The point is – a small session from you for your internal team offers two-fold benefits. It communicates to the team that you understand the subject, and it provides you and your team a space to exchange ideas and questions on a guided topic.
#3: External: Build your network with colleagues of the industry
Just like your internal network, your external network matters too. Gone are the days (for now) when lunchtime during in-person Fundraising conferences allowed meeting your industry colleagues. With virtual webinars and conferences, your social skills depend on your virtual presence. And, what better place to camp than LinkedIn, one of the most used professional networking websites. LinkedIn offers free tutorials to complete your profile and find people for your network. You can use a variety of filters like – geography, sector, mission-type, etc., to find colleagues to network with. Remember, just like internal networking, relationships matter here as well. So, be willing to invite and participate in virtual coffees to learn about your connections. You may be surprised by the wealth of knowledge and experience they bring.
#4: External: Create/share intellectual content
Networking with individuals is only the first step to build your network. The real potential of understanding your network’s power is when you engage with them on an intellectual level. It could be a question about annual giving in these pandemic times or an article about dashboarding for donor engagement. Exchanging ideas is the intention. Going back to LinkedIn, the website offers several ways for you to share content. You can write your short posts, long articles, video tutorials, or share someone else’s content as knowledge sharing. There are multiple options in which you can share content. Remember, the more frequently you produce (i.e., create or share) content, the more your network gets the chance to engage with you. Who knows, you may get an idea for the upcoming spring event through one of your connections?
#5: Internal and External: Go beyond your comfort zone through volunteering
One of the advantages of actively working on your brand is to expand your potential. Maybe you have never written articles or are not comfortable presenting to 20+ people on camera. While that is entirely okay, I encourage you to challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. Not only does that pump up your confidence, but it also improves your tangential thought process. And, what better way than volunteering to try a bunch of new activities. A relatively low-pressure volunteer environment where your livelihood does not depend on it is an excellent place to start with an activity you have never done before. The more you expose yourself to various tasks, the more comfortable you become with the challenges that come with it – thus teaching you to adapt as you grow in the leadership ladder of your Nonprofit. Remember, building and embracing your style is an investment to yourself and to the diversity in your Nonprofit. The more you become comfortable with your potential, the more decisive leader you can be.
Meenakshi (Meena) Das (she/her/hers) is a fundraising analytics consultant. She specializes in designing survey-based research tools and analyzing engagement. Meena appreciates spending her time outside work as a mentor to immigrants and as a pro bono research advisor to small shops. Her two recent favorite projects are working on making data-based research tools more DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) compliant and designing the second season of her podcast “Being and Unbeing an Immigrant” where she wants to bring together the families of immigrants left behind in the home country. Connect with Meena on LinkedIn.