In business, stagnation is death. The story of MySpace teaches us that. Embracing change is critical, but not only for your company. It's also important at times to be able to reinvent yourself on an individual level as a leader.
Immigrants like my father have done it since the beginning of time. His second act in America came after he'd grown up in Nigeria during the Biafran War. The trick is evolving in a way that allows you to accomplish your goals while remaining true to yourself.
When my best friend in high school was killed in a drive-by, I promised myself that I would do everything I could to get away and access a better life. Two hard years and 19 college applications later, I ultimately landed 900 miles away at Northwestern University.
My baggy clothes, fitted hats, and thick East Coast accent gave me away instantly as an outsider.
After freshman year I had an internship at Pratt & Whitney, a leading aerospace company, and I noticed that all the top executives dressed, walked, talked, and acted similarly -- not at all like I did.
From my perspective, these guys had made it and I wanted so badly to be where they were. So what did I do? I focused on my goal, and I reinvented myself.
My pants rose from my knees to my waist and I replaced the chain around my neck with a tie. I gathered hours of audio from speakers I admired ranging from professors to actors to then Newark mayor Cory Booker, and I practiced talking like them in the mirror.
Fair or not, after my "remake," I ended up with a broader set of friends, better grades, and an internship the following year at GE--several steps closer to my goal.
Not every change since has been so radical, but I've continued to transform throughout my career. My reinventions allowed me to pursue international development in Liberia at a time when I'd never been overseas, and just last year, to transition from an executive role at a nearly 200,000-person corporation to be a partner at a fast-growing consulting firm that only recently broke 200.
Mastering the art of personal reinvention can unlock countless doors in your life. There are many ways to go about it, but I've found that there are seven steps that always remain consistent:
Know your why.
Transforming for the sake of transforming is dangerous, but transforming when you know what you're trying to achieve is growth.
Know your values.
Draw bright lines around the beliefs and qualities you are not willing to compromise and protect those at all costs.
When entering a new space, understand the qualities of those who have found success there.
Figure out which you want to mirror, which you want to adapt, and which you want to avoid. If success in the space seems to require attributes that would compromise your values, you may want to reconsider whether this is the right move for you.
Create a persona and practice playing the part.
For Beyonce in 2008, that persona was Sasha Fierce. The more time you spend acting like the leader you want to be, the more natural it will become over time.
Think about your reinvention holistically.
Details matter. If you want to be seen as edgy and creative, you may need to lose the suits in favor of something trendier. Also, it's not just about how you show up in big meetings or in front of the group, but also who you are at the water cooler and in email responses.
Be comfortable with discomfort.
The transition will be hard. Everyday. It's supposed to be. Resist the urge to revert back to your comfort zone when the going gets tough.
You don't need to be the perfect product right out of the gate. Much like a new iPhone at launch, your goal is to be functional, fresh, and compelling on day one. Keep watching others, learning what's working and what isn't, and adding new skills to your repertoire, and before long, the bugs will be worked out.
Keep in mind, rarely is one transformation the end all and be all. As you've probably heard, what got you here won't get you there.
Be prepared for the possibility that you may benefit from undergoing this process multiple times over the course of your career and try to keep an open mind.
You may be surprised how much the new you feels even more like the real you.