Career Swagger: When Cultural Code Switching Equals Success, Not Sell-Out

Author and 'gentleman' shares tips for black men to upgrade power moves

(Image: Thinkstock)

Through the years, the African-American community has been struggling with the ability to brand success and intelligence as being cool. Particularly with black male teens and adults, oftentimes we don’t fully utilize our potential because we fear the risk of being labeled as “acting white.”

However, I’m starting to realize a powerful movement that’s centered on career “swagger” (or swag). In recent years the term swag has landed a prominent place of endearment in the urban lexicon. From President Barack Obama to celebrity actor Idris Elba, there has been an emergence of professional men who carry themselves and conduct their business with a swagger that cannot go unnoticed.

Another highly regarded man on the come-up who has embodied this is 31-year-old Enitan O. Bereola, II (@bereolaesque). As a bestselling author and popular speaker, Bereola has gained the respect of entertainment industry leaders, including actors Hill Harper and Meagan Good, through collaborative projects. Advice from Bereola’s first book How To Be a Gentleman – Bereolaesque: The Contemporary Gentleman & Etiquette Book For The Urban Sophisticate has been discussed on BET and the nationally syndicated “Russ Parr Morning Show.”

“I am not suggesting that men should be corny, walking around in suspenders and bow ties daily,” Bereola writes. “However, some basic good manners will go a long way in helping you during your ascent to the top. This book introduces new ideas and opens up the mind to a lifestyle that will ensure achievement in every walk of life”

During an interview with Bereola offered the following principles to help elevate their professional swaggar as an urban sophisticate:

Look like—and be—a smart, hard-working professional.
All too often some men believe they have to compromise their identity to advance or accelerate their careers, Bereola says. The essence of being an Urban Sophisticate is being wise enough to adhere to corporate norms while being true to who you are. Bereola contends that men must wear appropriate suits, lose the earrings, and eliminate sagging and baggy clothes from their professional wardrobe. This is vital because in Bereola’s words “true gentlemen know how to maneuver in all facets of life—particularly in his business affairs.”

“While formal education is key, you will be surprised how far a hard work ethic can take you,” Bereola adds. There are plenty of thriving businessmen and professionals who are not college graduates. Despite their lack of formal education, they rolled up their sleeves and outworked their competition.

Bring solutions to the table, and lead with compassion.
A lot of minority men complain about the current conditions and barriers that they encounter in the real world, but fail to step up as leaders by bringing solutions to the table. Bereola believes “we all have something to contribute. Everybody is a leader whether you accept it or not. You have to be responsible with your role. You shouldn’t underestimate your leadership skills—so start bringing solutions to the table and implement them as a humble servant.”

Make mature decisions with strong intention and motivation.
It’s extremely difficult to attain a high level of success if you’re an immature and impulsive man. “Success is a personal choice and you have to be intentional about your actions,” states Bereola.  He goes on to say “you have to want it bad enough for yourself.” Others may encourage you to become great, but your real motivation has to deliberately come from within.

Know when it’s time to move on.
Some men have become disgruntled and discouraged because they are working in a field that’s a career misfit. Bereola indicates that “you have to know when to quit when you have the wrong dream.” Oftentimes it’s unrealistic for a person to quit a job without anything else to fall back on. In this case you must strategically develop an exit strategy with actionable goals so you can land a career that you’re passionate about.

Antoine Moss, Ph.D., (@2PositiveTweets) is a nationally recognized resource on internships, early career achievement, leadership and motivation. CEO and founder of CEO Style Consulting L.L.C., Moss empowers professionals and organizations to reach their full potential, and serves as speaker, workshop instructor and consultant. The author of Learn to Intern CEO Style, Moss has been a featured expert on outlets including Fox 8 TV News and George Fraser’s 2011 Power Networking Conference.

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  • http://www.thecorporatesister.com/ The Corporate Sister

    As a corporate sister, I can empathize and totally agree with this post. There is no black or white answer per se to the cultural code in corporate America. And conducting ourselves as mature, professional men and women does not make us sell outs either. As a Black woman, I am proud my culture, and carry my “swagger” into work with me; yet I can certainly carry my culture and my professionalism without these clashing with each other. In order to be successful, we have to learn to do the best we can in the settings that we are in, and the more we adapt while remaining our authentic selves, the more successful we are bound to be. Thanks for a great post!