What makes a successful professional? And what are the key behaviors, actions and thinking processes necessary to craft a career that is rewarding and meaningful and meets your needs and wants over the long arch of your professional life?
These are issues that executive and career coaches and leadership trainers like me grapple with each and every day. They are deep questions that defy simple answers or superficial “tactics.” But deep as they are, there are some basic fundamentals that every professional needs to master in order to succeed in and enjoy his/her professional life. From my experience as a corporate trainer in Fortune 100 companies and beyond, the vast majority of professionals today have not received the training, information, understanding or knowledge they need to ensure they’ll remain on a positive track and build a career that will be fruitful, productive and successful as the years go on.
What do professionals really need to know?
All working individuals and professionals need significant competency and skill in all of the following eight areas in order to be successful, and most are sorely lacking in several if not most of them. (My anecdotal research shows that most are lacking in at least three of these skills at the same time):
1. Communication Skill
In order to be successful in your job and career, you must communicate powerfully and effectively with confidence and clarity. There’s been much written about introverts as leaders and managers, and how they can use their innate skills and gifts to succeed as leaders. Your personality type and level of introversion/extroversion aside, if you can’t communicate your ideas in an empowered, clear and engaging way, you simply won’t perform or progress as well as your counterparts who can communicate with ease and strength.
2. Building Relationships
So many professionals don’t get this one basic point until it’s too late – you cannot do what you want in your career, and advance successfully, if you’re an island. And you certainly can’t achieve what you long for if you’ve alienated all your colleagues, peers and managers. One terrible boss I had taught me something very smart many years ago. As horrible as he was at leading and managing, he did know one core principle – no matter how talented and gifted you are at your job, if you don’t have supportive relationships at work, you won’t succeed. Another way to say this is that if you hate who you work with and for, they’ll end up hating you back.
Professionals must make scores of decisions every day – from whom they sit with at lunch, to what raise to ask for, to new assignments they’ll accept. Do you understand HOW to make a decision so that it 1) aligns with what you really want, 2) adds to your skill base and experience, and 3) creates new opportunities for you that will be beneficial? Further, do you know how to make business decisions that will generate the outcomes that are most desired for the enterprise? Most individuals have never learned how to evaluate with discernment what’s in front of them, or how to calculate the risks and benefits of each decision they face.
I don’t know about you, but I never received one scrap of training in my 18 years of corporate life about how to be an inspiring leader and manager. I had no clue about the traits, behaviors and actions that true leaders demonstrate, and what stands them apart from the rest. Key to a professional’s success is learning how to empower, inspire and motivate others, to build a vision that’s compelling and to engender trust, loyalty and support from others to strive toward that vision. In my corporate life, I didn’t understand the importance of being other-focused vs. self-focused, or see how my every action either built on or eroded my leadership and managerial ability and impact.
5. Advocating and Negotiating for Yourself and Your Causes
In business, you have to advocate and negotiate continually – for yourself, for your staff, for your business concerns, for your budget, etc. How many professionals today can say they know how to speak up for their own causes and support their own advancement in effective, productive ways? And how many know how to negotiate powerfully for what they want? In working with women, I’ve seen that females struggle far more in this arena than men. That said, if you can’t advocate powerfully for your own behalf, it’s a rare thing that anyone else will.
6. Career Planning and Management
I’m sure you’ve noticed – your career doesn’t tend to grow in the right direction unless you proactively manage it. In doing so, can you answer this question: When you’re 90 years old looking back, what do you want to have stood for, given, contributed, taught, created, and left behind? What do you want people to say about you? In your professional life, do you know what you want, and what you reallywant? Until you can answer these questions (and more), you’ll struggle in creating a career path that will lead you to the ultimate destination you want. You’ll end up floating in an aimless sea of missed opportunities.
7. Work-Life Balance
While the struggles of balancing life and work continue to hit working moms with young children the hardest, the need and desire for work-life balance is an issue that everyone faces. Do you know exactly how to balance (or integrate) your life and work? Do you understand that it requires fierce prioritization, and a deep and unwavering knowledge of what matters most to you, so that you can act from that knowledge with confidence and power? Have you received training on how to negotiate the conflicting demands of our home and family life with what our employer wants from you? Most would answer “Heck no, and I need it!” to that question.
8. Boundary Enforcement
From my training as a marriage and family therapist, I learned that “boundaries” are the invisible barrier between you and your outside systems (work, school, church, family, friends, etc.). Your boundaries regulate the flow of information and input to and from you and your outside systems. If you are unable to 1) understand yourself, and your own needs and wants, and 2) create an appropriate, protective boundary around these non-negotiables, then success as a professional will be extremely challenging. Developing sufficient boundaries and enforcing them every day in your professional life is an essential behavior, and how you defend your boundaries can make or break your career. Do you know where you end and others (including your employer) begin?
We weren’t born understanding these basic professional fundamentals, but they’re vital to our career success nonetheless. If any of these issues feels challenging to you, I’d encourage you to obtain some outside training, and better yet, ask your employer for it. Training and mastery in these areas will help you grow in your ability to manage yourself, your emotions, your communications, your decision making and your career planning so that you will be able to shape the direction of your professional life, not be at the whim of it.
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