The most successful communicators are those who consciously match their own personalities to what the organization wants and needs them to be We North Americans like to think of ourselves as individuals. The maritime philosopher Popeye summed up our philosophy well when he said, “I yam what I yam.”
But every psychologist in the world will tell you we don’t really exist but in systems—family systems, social systems, institutional systems. We all take on roles, and not just the roles we want, but the roles the system needs us to play. The best, most successful and happiest communicators I have known have generally gravitated toward some roles that their organizations need, and they’ve studiously avoided other roles that their organization or their colleagues try to assign them. Here’s my general impression of what roles you ought to go for—and the ones you ought to avoid. • You’re the corporate art teacher. You are the only person in the organization with nothing better to do than to write stuff and to fool around with videos and the like. Or so your colleagues think. Why disabuse them of this notion? Do you think you get credibility by going around acting as grim as everybody else? • You’re not the corporate conscience. Nobody likes their conscience. But their conscience is theirs; don’t you be the bad guy. • You are the company humanist. You want people to trust your bedrock judgment, but you also want them to feel free to talk to you and tell you crazy stuff, because you’re one person who cares more about the colleagues you know than the share- holders you don’t.