Success in the business world is certainly a noble goal, but “success” is a broad and subjective term. Those who define success by constantly moving upwards through promotions and career advancements may find themselves disappointed if they run into a lack of opportunity to rise through the ranks of their industry. Those who define success by the number of zeros in their salary may never truly feel satisfied. The reality of any career is that there are things you can control, and others you simply can’t. The healthiest way to define success, therefore, is to strive to be the best at the job you do, regardless of where you fall in the organizational chart. If you become incredibly good at your position, the worst that can happen is you do your work confidently, efficiently and well. Likely, it will probably open some doors for you as well. Obviously, skill sets vary in different businesses and fields. However, there are some universal habits that will propel you forward wherever you work. Here are the five most essential.
If you were to survey business owners, CEOs, and other managers and executives, they may tell you that it’s lonely at the top, but worth the work to get there. They would also most likely list dependability and integrity near or at the top of their list or traits they see in successful employees. Trust goes beyond relying on your employees not to steal from the cash register. Integrity means much more than not doing the wrong thing, rather, it involves having the instinct to do the ethically right thing.
All these concepts boil down to an action that is very simple once an employee is willing to commit to it: always do what you say you are going to. If you do this consistently, you will find yourself being your supervisor’s go-to person for important or urgent projects. Of course, there will be things that are out of your control that may change your ability to hit a deadline or deliver a report. If you are waiting for a vendor’s invoice or a client’s approval, you can’t move forward. The key here is to communicate any changes to what you’ve promised. It is certainly possible to over-communicate to a manager, but generally, the more information they have to keep them in the loop on your progress, the better. You’d rather have them tell you they need less than expect more.
An employee who is constantly arguing with or complaining about their coworkers will find it hard to get ahead. Managers value team members who make their jobs easier, not saddle them with HR headaches and force them to mediate petty disputes. On the other hand, an employee who gets along with everyone is a huge asset for any supervisor. Getting along with everyone may sound impossible until you understand what that term means, and what it doesn’t. “Getting along” means being able to have a cordial, professional, drama-free relationship with the people you work with. It doesn’t mean you have to be friends with them or even like them.
It’s always difficult to separate the personal from the professional at the workplace. Hopefully, you do work with many people you legitimately care for and consider friends. There’s nothing wrong with that if you don’t allow friendships to cloud your judgment, making you cross a line and show preferential treatment. The key to getting along is to not let the people who get under your skin know that they’re getting under your skin. While it’s always important to be honest and genuine, maintaining a professional countenance in the face of people who irritate you (or even outright antagonize you) is an essential professional skill. Think of it this way: you can’t control how others behave. You can only control how you react to their behavior. Train yourself to take a breath, smile, and find the positive or neutral path forward.
Let’s switch gears and talk about your relationship with your professional superiors. Work environments vary greatly but showing respect for supervisors’ authority is never a bad idea. That said, most managers don’t want to be surrounded by zombie-like, sycophantic yes-people. A good leader recognizes that good ideas can come from anywhere within an organization. They want and value input from their employees; after all, the rank and file team in the trenches has a more realistic viewpoint of operations and customer service than the executives in the “ivory towers.” If you have an idea, go through the proper channels to pitch it! Speak to your direct supervisor, or the manager, of the appropriate department. Just be sure to respect the chain of command, and don’t assume that if an idea hasn’t been implemented it hasn’t been discussed.
Big ideas obviously have big value, but simply providing feedback and input has tremendous value as well. Think about this scenario: a manager holds a department or staff meeting. They end by saying “what do you all think?” Which scenario do you think they would prefer: a room full of blank faces and the sound of crickets, or with intelligent, challenging questions? Good leaders want input and feedback. Of course, this can be overdone either way, either disrespectfully challenging the wisdom of decisions, or blindly cheerleading them. That may be a delicate balance, but managers respect employees who say what’s on their mind. Don’t be afraid to do it.
When we talked about getting along with coworkers, we mentioned taking a breath, smiling, and moving on. This is not only true when dealing with difficult people but also when dealing with difficult situations. The sooner that you adopt the discipline needed to avoid knee-jerk reactions, the better. Professionals keep their cool. Think about the business leaders you admire. Of course, you expect them to be passionate and aggressive. At the same time, you expect them to project calm and reassurance. This is not an easy skill set to develop, but experienced managers have trained themselves to be problem solvers and to de-escalate issues rather than adding fuel to the fire.
There’s no reason this approach shouldn’t and can’t be applied down the line. It simply takes practice on behalf of you as the employee. Be calm and analytical in the face of challenges. Recognize that difficult, high-stakes problems are a part of business. How you deal with them is entirely up to you. Interestingly, workers in retail or the service industry are often better with this than people in the business world. Take a lesson from them, and learn to listen, process, and then act-always with a positive attitude.
Finally, understand that managers respect employees who seek to better themselves and broaden their abilities. It’s never been easier to find online classes or tutorials to learn a process or software application. Take the initiative and seek answers to things you don’t know. Managers will respect your curiosity, drive, and commitment. Don’t stay stuck in the realm of sameness. Doing something just because it’s always been done that way is not a justification to continue. Seek knowledge and wisdom to propel your actions.
Two common business clichés are that you make your own luck, and that opportunity is where luck and preparedness meet. They’re clichés because they’re true. Build up your skill sets, and you will be ready when luck (and opportunity) knock on your door.
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