Best Career Advice I’ve Ever Heard
Executive coaches are sometimes called corporate shrinks. And while most of us would argue vehemently that what we do doesn’t approach psychological therapy — and we’re careful to steer clear of it — we will admit that we hear lots of private thoughts. Our entire job is predicated on intimacy, trust, and shared confidences.
We also see, in real time, how career strategies play out. We collect feedback on all sides about how commonly held wisdoms work — or crash and burn.
The reality is that a whole lot of this career stuff is situational. What works for one person, or in one company, doesn’t do so well elsewhere. That said, there are a few, consistent pieces of advice I’ve heard through my work that hold up anywhere, for any level of professional. Follow these, and you’ll fast-track your own career.
1. If you see a fire, run into it.
This was shared recently by a client (told to her by her Dad), and it echoes a sentiment I’ve held for years: in chaos, there is opportunity. Most major career accelerations happen when someone steps into a mess and makes a difference. In the technology sector, people will remark that one year in a start-up is like five years in an established company. There’s ample opportunity to stretch your wings, wear many hats, and create a name for yourself when there’s not a set plan to follow. You can find the same opportunity in any organization, if you seek it.
2. Follow up.
If, as Woody Allen made famous, 80% of life is showing up — then 90% of career success is following up. Our organizations are rife with lack of accountability, whether by intention or incompetence. Be the person who meets deadlines, holds others accountable, and heck, even remembers to say thanks when it’s due. Following through on your commitments is trust-building, and the opposite erodes it quickly and indelibly.
3. Tell the truth.
Truthfulness seems a bit obvious to be on this list. However, companies are rife with damaging lies of omission. In an effort to look good, and not cause waves, we don’t express our truthful opinion. Being brave enough to respectfully state the truth in a politically astute way sets you apart. Most CEOs I know want to hear dissenting opinion; they crave more information not “yes” people. As Joann Lublin discussed in the Wall Street Journal, expressing a difference of opinion actually helps your career.
4. Treat everyone as an equal.
Respect has a place at work, but not deference. Being relaxed and confident in front of authority elevates your own brand. People see you the way you see yourself. The same goes for those down the chain. Introduce your directs as colleagues, not staff. They’ll see you, and themselves, more favorably.
5. Pull yourself up with one hand, and reach back to others with the opposite one.
It is extremely common feedback that an executive manages up well, but not down. This works for awhile, but turns out you have to be seen favorably by all levels to succeed. A recent global study showed that an inability to build and maintain a team is the top reason executives fail.
6. Make valuable offers to others.
Every day in our organizations, we see areas that could be helped, or processes that should be fixed. We let them slip by because of time, political boundaries, or not wanting to speak up. When you see something that you can affect — don’t wait to be asked — make a proactive offer to help. (Or, if appropriate, just do it.) Even if you aren’t taken up on the offer, the fact that you cared enough to make it speaks volumes about your character and your initiative.
7. Show gratitude.
No one succeeds on their own. Even if things don’t entirely go your way, there are still reasons to be grateful for the opportunities you’ve been given. Gratitude is a dying emotion in corporate America, where we can easily make a spirited case for our own entitlement vis-a-vis the faceless giant. We too often forget to say thanks for the opportunities and rewards we’ve been given — both large and small. Yes, you earned them. But you can still say thanks.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
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