Are You Carrying 'Young Guy Baggage'?

Last Updated Aug 6, 2010 6:32 PM EDT

Of all the various ways to differentiate your personal brand -- the list goes on and on -- here's one profile you may want to avoid: Young Guy Baggage.

Years ago I was speaking to a client about a member of his team. "Steve's a solid performer," the client said, "but he has a fair amount of young guy baggage." I admitted that I had never heard the term. Without skipping a beat, he recited, "You know...defensive, insecure, always worried about how he looks. Tends to personalize everything."

You just thought of someone who exactly fits that description, didn't you?
By now you've probably figured out that your boss wants you worrying about her problems, not yours. Your value will be in rough proportion to your ability to forget personal needs, including concerns of how others perceive you, and focus on the goals of the team. The internal equity you build - indeed, your credibility itself ­­-- relies to a significant degree on the knack for recognizing that it's seldom, if ever, about you.

Here's a simple test to see whether you may have one or more latent symptoms. Imagine that I'm your boss. Suppose you ask me a direct question and I give you an evasive response. Is it because I've decided you're not worthy to know the answer...or because answering you directly might compromise me? Let it go, grasshopper.

Haven't you found that the more you ask for approval, the more it eludes you? Try to remember that others are focused almost exclusively on their own interests. If you learn to think and feel big-picture, you'll have every strategic advantage. Do you wish you had said something slightly different at that meeting? Chances are no one remembers. They're all on to the next thing. You need to move on, too.

Frustrated with trying to win respect, you may fall into another subtle though predictable trap: You believe you've accomplished the ultimate by not caring what people think about you, but you're still stuck...because you want them to know emphatically how much you don't care. Gotcha.

If you're asking: Okay, once I drop that whole constellation of neurotic thoughts and behaviors, what do I replace it with? The answer may be to create a "To Do" list for yourself that looks something like this:

1. Let people underestimate your abilities
2. Vastly exceed their expectations
3. Get promoted and enjoy the last laugh

  • Mark Jaffe

    As President of Wyatt & Jaffe, Mark Jaffe has been called one of the 'World's 100 Most Influential Headhunters' by BusinessWeek magazine. His firm, Wyatt & Jaffe, works with a select list of financial services, high-tech and consumer companies worldwide and has been called one of the 50 leading retained search firms in North America.