I have a huge admiration for entertainers.  The dedication and sacrifice that many of them commit to honing their talent, mastering their craft, striving for recognition or simply surviving never ceases to amaze me.  I’m especially in awe of those rare performers who have multiple talents and can operate in more than one milieu.

One of my favourite performers is Zooey Deschanel.  Most people know her from the television show “New Girl” which aired from about 2012 through to 2018, and for which she won an Emmy and was nominated three times for the Golden Globe award.  Fans will also remember her from some of her earlier comedic roles in movies such as “Elf”, “Failure to Launch” and “500 Days of Summer”.

But how many people realize that Zooey Deschanel is also an accomplished singer?  She is the female half of the duo “She and Him”, along with musician M. Ward.  How many know that she is an accomplished songwriter?  How many recognize that previously she was a model for Chanel and Rimmel?  Do you know she plays the ukulele?

We All Have “Other Talents”

Too often in corporate life there is a tendency to label and compartmentalize people.  When employees are first hired they go through a period of review and assessment.  As an new employee your every action, word and expression is analyzed, scrutinized and defined.  If you are assigned to a project or a particular undertaking, and especially if that activity is an intrinsic part of the business, then it is not uncommon to be defined in terms of that function.  Sometimes, it can be a springboard to further success.  Other times, it can become a quagmire that locks you in, sucks you down, and limits future advancement.

Despite many organizational claims that performance reviews promote employee development and growth often they merely serve to reinforce stereotypes.  In my August 2017 I shared the story of a former co-worker, Amy, who was stuck in a role from which she could not advance.  A solid performer who was dedicated and hard working Amy was labeled by her bosses as a “technie” and kept in comparatively minor Accounting roles in spite of superior performance reviews, a strong commitment to professional development, and continually applying for various other positions internally:

In addition to her strong accounting skills Amy had trained in several software packages, knew programming, was familiar with claims management, and had knowledge of payroll.  One might of hoped a growing company could find alternate opportunities for Amy.  Sadly, this was not to be.

Being stereotyped at work can be both challenging and stressful, especially when it limits your career advancement.

Being stereotyped at work can be both challenging and stressful, especially when it limits your career advancement.
(Photo courtesy of Anna Shvets from Pexels).

Define Your Brand…or Risk Being Defined by Others

1. Know thyself.  The first step is to be sure you have a clear and cogent understanding of your skills, aptitudes and abilities.  There are numerous online assessments that can be accessed which, when taken, will provide a good indicator of your strengths, management style, work preferences and temperament.  In addition, seek counsel from friends, family and trusted business associates who can guide you in developing a clear awareness of your temperament and aptitudes.

2. Make your needs and interests known.  Often, extroverts have a clear advantage over introverts.  Extroverts know how to showcase and promote themselves.  Introverts, on the other hand, often struggle with how best to promote their brand.  Realistically, you can’t trust others to promote your candidacy, so you have to find a way of doing it yourself.

3. Don’t Take “No” for an Answer.  Face it:  supervisors don’t like replacing good employees.  While there are some that are genuinely interested in seeing their employees grow and develop, there are others who hoard good employees and aren’t comfortable with watching junior staff advance. Simply put, the more persistent you are in making your needs known the more likely you are to have them taken seriously.

4. Be Visible.  Seek out opportunities to network at work or showcase your skills.  Sometimes, this may entail a voluntary assignment or doing work outside your regular duties.

5. Don’t naturally accept that your boss will become your mentor.  Mentoring, like budgeting or organization, is a managerial skill.  Some have it, some don’t.  Sadly, the pace of many organizations often limits the time devoted to providing feedback or oversight to more junior employees.

6. Up or Out.  You need to set a reasonable limit on how long you will wait. If you express your concerns on the need for change or advancement, and it is not forthcoming in about eighteen months, I would suggest it is time to dust off your resume and start applying elsewhere.

7. Volunteer for other assignments.  As mentioned earlier, volunteering is a great way to get noticed, particularly if you volunteer for something that has company-wide visibility, is in a different functional area, or allows you to utilize or display skills that are not commonly attributed to you.

8. Take control of the Performance Review process.  The annual performance review is dreaded by employees.  However, it is your opportunity to again remind your supervisor of your contribution and longer-term ambitions.  Make sure you not only highlight your achievements, but spell out in exacting detail what it is you are seeking in the way of advancement, training and future assignments.

9. Appeal to a Higher Authority.  Too often managers and supervisors lack the knowledge or awareness of how to deal with employee aspirations and interests.  Be prepared to make your ambitions and interests known to senior management when the opportunity presents itself at company events or social gatherings.  Here, the key is subtlety and tact, as well as choosing the right moment.

10. Loyalty is a “two way street”.  Loyalty is a wonderful characteristic.  It speaks to a sense of alignment, and a willingness to “go the extra distance” to support your organization and leadership. However, loyalty is not one-sided.

There is an idea tied up with French history called “noblesse oblige”.  It refers to the fact that the nobility received inherent entitlements and benefits, but in return they were expected to fulfill certain social obligations.  Social obligations entailed helping those with less resources or who were in genuine need.

Leadership has an obligation to support, sustain and, where applicable, promote those employees who demonstrate performance, promise and potential.  When it doesn’t fulfill that aim then it effectively loses whatever trust or loyalty it may have expected from its employees.

A Final Thought…

We all have talents, and we all have abilities that may or may not be recognized by employers.  Not willing to sit still and be defined by others is, I believe, a defining characteristic of genuine ambition.

Having the courage to not be defined by others is one of the reasons I find Zooey Deschanel so unique and amazing, and why I chose to reference her in this blog.  The television show “New Girl” ended in 2018. According to one Hollywood tabloid she is no longer interested in being cast as the girl-next-door who often gets mistaken for Katie Perry.  Evidently, she aspires to small budget indie films of a more serious and dramatic nature.

Personally though, I’d be delighted if she just concentrated on her musical career.  Her music has a simplicity and clarity I haven’t heard since Karen Carpenter.  Her voice has a unique and resonant quality that is so incredibly unusual.  The song “Turn to White” is my favourite Zooey Deschanel soundtrack which she wrote and performed: