“What is one thing you wish you knew 10 years ago?” is a question I often ask successful and senior leaders in the business and corporate world. Some of their thoughts are similar, some are different. But there is one thing which is common.
No one ever said to me, “I wish I had worked harder and gotten more work done. I wish I had spent more time on my desk working endlessly.”
That’s true. I have not heard that in a single time. And most probably, you have not heard it too.
And that is because, there is more to success and more to growth than just being good at your job and working hard. This is not new news. However, every time I remind this to a friend or a client, they feel frustrated or indignant. “Like what else do you need me to do?!! I am already doing enough and great. I can’t be bothered with showing off and being political.”
Okay then, can you be bothered with taking charge of your leadership brand and your career? Is my return question.
If your answer is yes, here are three important additional things you can do, on top of doing a great job.
- Work on building a trusted and strong professional relationship with your manager
Having a positive relationship with your manager is crucial for career success. Most of us agree to this. However, when people tell me that having a good relationship with your manager is a hit or miss or a matter of luck, that is when I disagree. Allow me to back up my point.
While we certainly can’t control the personality, preferences, nature and moods of our manager, we can take charge of how we interact with her (or him). We can take charge of how we want to steer that relationship.
I recall an incident where one of my friends was struggling to build a positive relationship with his new manager. “He is too critical, hyper-stressed and micromanaging”, my friend complained. I recommended him to invite his manager for a one-on-one dinner conversation. And try to understand more about his style, expectations and goals from the team. I also suggested that during the chat, my friend mentions his own expectations from the manager, work goals, resources that he needs and what is his vision for the team.
Your manager is not a mind reader. Help her (or him) understand what you need to be successful in your role. Tell her clearly what your goals and expectations are. This will make life easier for both of you and build a trusted relationship in the long run.
- Network and connect with people within and outside your organization
“I can’t network to save my life”, I have heard people to say to me. If you are one of them, let’s have a real talk.
What do you think is networking? And why are you against it?
Okay, understood that you don’t like to go to large cocktail events and meet fifty people from different backgrounds and have small talk. I don’t like that either.
However, unless you plan to work all alone for the rest of your life (which I believe is highly unlikely), you can benefit from meeting people, knowing them, learning new ideas and making new connections in this business world.
In my experience, I have noticed that it is often a mental block or a story we tell ourselves. Break down that story and ask yourself what part of this activity you don’t like. And then remove those parts.
Here are some simple ideas that have worked for me or for the people I have worked with:
- If you don’t like to attend company wide events, invite colleagues from your team and other departments for a one-on-one coffee or lunch chat.
- Find an activity that you enjoy immensely. Let’s say for example, playing chess. Now start a Chess Club in your company and have a weekly Chess evening. Connecting with people is easiest over a shared interest. Alternatively, you can find a cause that you care strongly about and find others in your company who also share this passion.
- Also, be mindful of expanding your network outside your company and your industry. These outer circles are where you will find new opportunities, new resources and learn new trends.
Mark Granovetter, an American sociologist and professor at Stanford University, suggested that individuals should maintain both strong ties and weak ties. Weak ties are people outside your circle of inner influence and are present outside your typical social circles. These are the people who will bring you important news, new referrals and recommendations that people in your inner circle might not have.
If you are an introvert and prefer fewer social interactions, that is completely fine. The idea is not to change who you are. The point is to push yourself a little bit outside your comfort zone, meet people and get the word out there.
- Communicate regularly with your stakeholders
Last week during a coaching conversation, a client shared her personal experience with me. She had been leading a small sales team at a large investment bank. According to her, she had been doing everything right – getting the firm new business and new clients, increasing the investments from the current clients, training her team and hiring new associates etc. A few months before the annual reviews, she mentioned to her manager that she was keen to be put on the Managing Director track and was expecting a promotion in the following year. She thought that this would be the logical next step for her. However, she was shocked when her manager told her that she still needed to work on her leadership skills and her internal visibility within the firm. She did not have enough backing of partners and some key stakeholders who would vouch for her as a leader. People did not know her well enough to push for her case.
Has this happened with you? It feels quite disappointing, isn’t it? Especially when you feel like you have been doing all the right things and still not getting that promotion.
If you are in this position, like my client, take a step back and ask yourself these questions:
“How regularly do I communicate with teams, managers, leaders who are not directly in my team?”
“Do I understand how the business runs outside my department?”
“Are there enough senior leaders who know me and the work I am doing?”
“Do I regularly communicate with the key stakeholders in my firm?”
If the answer for these questions is ‘No’, then figure out a way to start including these in your weekly goals. Ask your manager to introduce you to some leaders from different business groups and meet them for a coffee or lunch. This will not only help you increase your visibility but also help you understand business strategy from a different perspective.
If you have accomplished a project, run a team activity or got a new client for the firm, send in an email to your manager and global leaders to let them know about this success. Include your team and share the credit with them too. Sometimes clients tell me that they don’t have the time to send such emails or they find that there is no need to brag. And I ask them back, “Literally, how many minutes do you think it will take for you to send an email like this. What is the true objection here?” Remember, sharing about your success in an authentic and passionate way is not bragging. It shows that you care. It shows that you work hard and know how to celebrate the results. There is nothing wrong in that. Don’t hesitate to let people around you know what a great job you have been doing. It also inspires other team members to buckle up and put in more efforts!
Whether you are looking for a promotion, a board on the seat, trying to get new clients for your business – doing a good job is not enough. These days, it is the entry requirement. Remind yourself to go out, talk to people, connect with them and help them. The relationships you build will not only help you grow in your career, but also as an individual.