With this being “Back to School” and “Back to Work” season, our thoughts around this time of year often turn to fresh starts and new beginnings.
A lot of people – especially recent graduates and post-summer job changers — embark on new jobs, new roles, new teams, new projects, and new challenges. As such, here are just a few suggested success tips that may help to get you started on the right foot:
Attitude is Everything
We’re all really impressed with your MBA and your 4.0 average, but if they need someone to make copies or go get the coffee, be the first one to jump up and say, “I’ll be happy to!” Your enthusiastic and proactive efforts will (hopefully) be recognized and appreciated. And, if not, well … it’s just a good thing, and the right thing, to do.
I was once delivering a leadership workshop when the CEO got up and left the room to get himself a snack. But instead of coming back with just a bag of potato chips for himself (or, as many executives would do, ask one of his underlings to go get it for him), he returned with a basket full of chips, cookies, and nuts, and – like a flight attendant making their way up the aisle – proceded to work his way around the room, from table-to-table and person-to-person, asking if anyone wanted anything.
If the CEO of a company is willing to act so selflessly, generously, and thoughtfully – with no consideration of title, status, or perception – couldn’t we, and shouldn’t we, all?
Nothing is Beneath You
On a similar note: Don’t consider any task as beneath you. Things need to get done, and someone’s got to do it. And, in many cases, that someone is you. So it helps to view everything as a learning experience and a developmental opportunity. It won’t kill you to get your hands dirty. Doing so (again, with a positive attitude) demonstrates teamwork and, often, even leadership.
Years ago I was on a job interview and the interviewer asked me the following question: “So let me ask you something: Do you do windows?” No, not Microsoft Windows. And, no, he wasn’t being metaphorical or mysterious relative to the concept of “transparency.” He was, literally, asking me if I was willing to do whatever it took to support the team and get the job done…even if it involved grabbing the Windex and paper towels, and rolling up my sleeves.
If there is one phrase you should completely and permanently eliminate from your vocabulary, by the way, regardless of what role you have, it is the words, “That’s not my job.” Just take my word for it.
So many people do the bare minimum; so look to stand out from the crowd by doing “the bare maximum”! Always ask yourself if you did all that you could do…and then look for ways to do more. We call this “Going ABCD” which stands for “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.” Whatever you’re asked to do, always seek to not just meet, but to exceed, expectations. When everyone else is dialing it up to “10,” find a way to crank it up to “11,” which, as we all know, is “one louder.”
When you do this, by the way, the intent should be to add as much value as you can; NOT to show everyone how smart you are. You may have been the smartest person in your class, but it’s important to realize that you don’t have all the answers…yet. I once had a former student complaining about how his company and his boss did pretty much everything wrong, and he wanted my advice on how to bring that to their attention. When I asked him how long he’s been working there, he replied, “Two weeks.”
Recognize that even with all your booksmarts, what you lack is the years of wisdom that those who came before you possess from first-hand, real-world experience…sometimes referred to as the School of Hard Knocks. So it might be useful to keep in mind my saying (picture a Venn diagram) that “Wisdom is where Knowledge and Experience meet.”
It’s Not All About You
This is one of the best tips anyone ever gave me: It was explained in the context of sales, but it applies just as well to job interviewing (which is a form of sales, as you’re selling yourself). You may have heard this classic metaphor before: “No one needs a drill. If you go out and buy a drill, it’s because you need a hole.” Perhaps, for example, to hang a picture on a wall. In other words, people don’t by a product, they buy a solution to a problem. They don’t buy the features, they buy the benefits of those features. I’m in the leadership training and coaching business. But as my former boss taught me – and this was a game-changer in terms of how I approach selling my services: No one buys “training”; they buy what training does for them.
Similarly, as great a person as you may be, and as fun as you are to have around, when they hire you, it is because you fill a need and are seen as a solution to a business problem. If they could meet their goals with one less headcount, they probably would. So, once you get hired, regardless of the industry, organization, or function, your #1 job is this: To help your manager more successfully do his or her job! If you reframe your role in this way, and do everything you can to deliver results that will contribute to making your boss successful, that will, ultimately, increase the odds of YOUR success.
Hopefully, in time, what goes around will come around and you will be recognized and appreciated for your contributions. We know you’re on the fast track and want it all now. And it’s nice to be referred to as “the superstar.” But remember that patience is a virtue…and your time will come.
Look, Listen and Learn
Keep in mind the three L’s: “Look, Listen, and Learn.” Keep your eyes and your ears open at all times. Remember the classic saying that we have two ears and one mouth, so you should be listening twice as much as you speak. Be a sponge. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Take risks. Make mistakes. As the saying goes, “That’s why pencils have erasers.” Make it a point to try to learn at least two or three new things every single day. No matter how boring or monotonous a job might be at times, there’s always something to learn…if you are open to it. In fact, to keep yourself from becoming completely disengaged, that’s even MORE important to do if or when your job is not intellectually stimulating you. Read as much as you can. Keep a learning journal. Connect the dots. See every experience as a learning opportunity, and every interaction as a teachable moment.
As Yogi Berra famously said, “You can observe a lot from watching.”
Always be Curious
Remember your “ABC”s: “Always Be Curious!” Ask questions: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, How?, and, especially, Why? Keep in mind Stephen Covey’s Habit #5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Try to gain a big picture perspective and seek to develop a visual, mental model of how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together…including (especially) where YOUR piece fits in. Doing so, and expressing your curiosity, will not only demonstrate to others that you care enough to ask, but will, ultimately, give you a greater sense of both understanding and purpose.
Speaking of “purpose,” you may have heard the classic tale of the two bricklayers: When you ask the first one what he’s doing, he replies with something like: “I’m laying bricks; what does it look like I’m doing.” But when you ask the second one the same question, she replies with enthusiasm: “I’m building a cathedral!” Or a hospital. Or a school. Or a museum. Or an office building. It doesn’t really matter WHAT it is that you’re building within your role. The only thing that matters is that you go about your business with passion, enthusiasm, and genuinely caring about whatever it is you’re doing.
Asking (appropriate) questions is not only a great way to learn the business, but also enables you to learn about, connect with, and develop stronger interpersonal relationships with others. As the saying goes, “It’s not just WHAT you know, but WHO you know.” And about who knows YOU. When you ask questions of others, it demonstrates your respect for their knowledge and experience, and helps them to get to know you better. Additionally, when interacting with others, be generous with your time, your knowledge, and your willingness to offer assistance to others…with no expectation of return. People notice these things.
Speaking of “noticing”…Earlier in my career, when I worked as an administrative assistant in the drama program development department of one of the three major tv networks out in L.A., I thought that by putting my head down, keeping to myself, and consistently putting out excellent work, that would be sufficient to eventually earn me a promotion to a manager-level position. But I couldn’t have been more wrong! While I was busy working behind closed doors, my peers were busy networking and gaining visibility by raising their hands, asking to attend meetings and events, and interacting with as many people as possible. As an extreme introvert and bookwork, that was the last thing I wanted to (or felt comfortable and able to) do. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that that’s not how you get ahead in the business world.
One other thing: When it comes to building real relationships, it’s about quality, not quantity. As you move forward in your career, remember that developing a circle of genuine, sincere, mutually-beneficial, long-term relationships is more important and more valuable than setting the world record for having the most Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and/or LinkedIn connections. And when you seek to give more than you get, while it doesn’t always seem like it, it will pay off in the long run.
Introspection, Reflection and Connection
One of my all-time favorite New Yorker cartoons is the one with a picture of two guys looking up at a giant billboard that reads, in gigantic letters, “STOP AND THINK.” The caption: “It sorta makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?”
As we race around each day from home to work and back – often with our heads buried in our phones – too many of us don’t make the time and take the time to stop and think. Mindfulness is one of those hot topic buzzwords these days but, at its most basic, it’s really about being present, focused, and aware of both our external and internal environments.
One of the ways of being more mindful is to keep in mind the words “Introspection, Reflection, & Connection.” This is simply about looking inward, looking backward, and looking forward. Consciously thinking about what you are thinking, and feeling, inside; relecting on what it means; and linking it to what’s going on in your career and your life – past, present, and future.
Whether you are starting a new job, or wish to perhaps recharge and refresh your enthusiasm for your present job, it helps to frame (or reframe) your situation as “perfectly all right as it is” by looking to make the best and the most out of it. Whatever you are doing right now is just the next stepping-stone along what will most likely be a long and winding career path.
And if you think of your career this way – as a journey – and try to make the most of the trip, you’re more likely to enjoy the experience as you proceed towards your ultimate destination…whatever, or wherever, that may be.