I’m a fun-loving guy, and very sociable too. I’m also a hard worker, but my manager has made comments suggesting I need to take my job more seriously. How do I convince him that I do, though I don’t have a serious demeanor? As far as I’m concerned, my playfulness helps me work better. When I first began working in a corporate environment about 20 years ago, an experienced HR manager repeatedly shared one piece of advice with me: Perception is everything. At first I was reluctant to accept that I had to act a certain way in order to be taken seriously, but this piece of advice has proved extremely accurate throughout my career. This doesn’t mean you should pretend to be someone else in the workplace, but it does mean that if you would like to be successful at your company, you may have to temper your lightheartedness to reflect the overall dynamic of the group. It’s important to understand the culture of your environment and behave according to what is expected of your role or the role that you aspire to be in. Your manager is already telling you that he or she feels you do not take the job seriously enough. Even if you are a stellar performer, how management perceives your attitude toward the job will determine your ability to progress in your career. It is OK to crack a joke to lighten a moment, but perhaps not in a serious meeting, and definitely not all the time. Start by scaling back your playfulness and watch your manager for cues as to when it may be appropriate to lighten the mood. You will find that being social can serve your career interests very well, but it must be done within a certain professional boundary.
As a woman in IT who is interested in taking on more responsibility, I have contemplated approaching someone about being a mentor to me. A well-regarded male manager recently expressed a willingness to do this for me, but I had been thinking about asking a woman. Do you think gender is an important consideration in this decision? As a female in an executive role in IT, I understand your dilemma. Personally, I have found that anytime someone is willing to provide guidance and share knowledge as a mentor, it is important to accept the offer, regardless of gender. It can be very difficult to find the right personality match with a mentor, so if you are able to find that right fit with a male manager, then go for it. And if your organization would allow it, I suggest having more than one mentor. If you have difficulty finding a female mentor in your field, broaden your search; I have found it very valuable to look outside of my field for a strong female leader. Having someone provide guidance and advice on issues that are unique to women in male-dominated industries has helped me operate within my own organization.