high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A suit by any other name...

Due to a recent promotion at work, I'm now wearing a suit every day.  In one respect, this is a nice change.  As a result of societal imprinting, wearing a suit makes me feel more respectable and more professional.  There is also the enjoyability of picking out a suit to wear and, whether it is true or not, feeling like you made a good choice for the day.  Finally, suits have lots of handy pockets inside the jacket, thus making them a fairly useful garment when you have things like a Blackberry to carry.

A suit.  But is it a suit?
On the other hand, wearing a suit brings with it the inherent danger of others' perceptions.  More specifically, there is the danger that people (and in the worst cases, the people you work with) will perceive you as a "suit."  In other words, you must rise to the challenge of wearing a suit without being a suit.

First of all, what does it really mean to be a "suit?"  In my mind, it means that people don't take you seriously, they view you as being ineffectual, stuffy, and with nothing to offer except vague managerial buzz words and cliches, with perhaps a sprinkling of references to various organizational policies.  A suit is not a welcome figure.  When a suit walks into the room, people immediately feel less positive about the situation.  A suit cannot relate to people, despite any attempts to come across as casual, down-to-earth, or easy going.  People don't want to associate with suits, or listen to suits, or have anything to do with suits.  In short, suits are not welcome.

Suits are always associated with "management."  For example, in any modern company you probably will have some group, large or small, of computer programmers.  The guys who go out for lunch together all the time, tell nerd jokes to each other, are knowledgeable about internet trends, and have fairly specialized skills.  This group of programmers will be managed by someone, and in many cases, that someone will be a suit.  The guy who thinks he's in charge, who tells them what they're not allowed to do, who tries to impose order and rules, and who will never fit in with the guys, no matter how much or how little he realizes it.  The programmers look upon the suit with scorn, and either joke about him behind his back or simply take the route of pretending he isn't there.

Probably a suit
A suit will be defensive of his ways.  A suit is not irrational, he is just misguided.  He has a hard time admitting he is wrong, if he is even capable of realizing he is wrong.  Something may never feel quite right, and he can't put his finger on it, but he also can't get around his outlook on life, which is dominated by rules and regulations, by norms, by concepts like "professionalism," and by a reward system that is based on money or other tangible goods.  A suit might work hard, but he will never truly be passionate about something or throw himself into something.  He may leave a mark, but it will just be a greasy smear.

In contrast, a true suit-wearing professional is confident and respected.  People feel good about what he says to them, even if they don't necessarily agree with it.  People trust this type of professional, and want to be associated with him.  He is welcome on the team, and has influence.  He makes the workplace better.  He has style, even if he doesn't have fashion.  He is comfortable in his own skin, and strikes the right balance between following established methods while not being a robot.  Unlike a "suit," a true suit-wearing professional does not think too much about the fact that he is wearing a suit.

Perhaps a suit
As I've gotten started in this new role, it has become apparent to me that the challenge will not be in performing the basic responsibilities of the job, but in being effective in the job.  It is a Human Resources job in which I have certain groups of customers (other employees of the organization), and I'm responsible for advising them on various issues.  So I can give them basic answers, and interpret policies for them, and tell them how processes work, but all of those things are routine once you learn them, and have a very "going through the motions" feel to them.  In contrast, being effective in the role will mean improving the workplace for my customers by helping them to be more efficient, by improving their communications, by providing them with a larger perspective, so on and so forth.

So, in pondering this question of how to both wear a suit to work and be effective in my role, I thought it would make sense to think of examples of people who have achieved this feat before.  Who wears a suit, but truly makes things better, is trusted, and people are happy to see them?  Then it hit me: Maybe the suit really does need to be my focus...

Just a suit.  But what a suit!

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