- Rod Velez
After two decades in the industry, it's inevitable not to grow in a few things. Following are ideas learned from books, bosses, and a few booboos. Hopefully, those new to the industry pick up and learn a few of the lessons.
1. Invest in leadership and communication – Why the premium on leadership training? Because most employees normally ask for technical training and certification which, in reality, expires in a few months. But leadership and communication skills are life skills; they never expire. And if you think about it, they are (a) the first things that any interviewer notices about you, and (b) are the channel by which you show your tech skills. (Go, Toastmasters!)
2. Get a mentor/counselor and seriously spend time with them – In the old days before education was industrialized, the only way for anyone to pick up a skill was through mentoring. If you wanted to be a bricklayer or a banker or a butcher, you had to get a mentor; that was the only way to learn. The value of that exercise is still true and it is still strong. Just like having a fitness coach today, get a mentor for the most important areas of your life, including your career.
3. Be Kind (with integrity) – Because kindness is the grease that oils any relationship, especially at the office. People (including "the boss") are more at ease tapping someone they know who is easy to deal with. And a favored reputation often means you get advantages others won't normally enjoy. A word of caution though; be kind but don’t be a pushover.
4. Listen (more, first, often) - You can learn a great deal from Catholic saints. Francis of Assisi in particular sums it up well, "... that I may seek not so much to be understood as to understand." The key to listening well is empathy. When people know you're not just listening to them but they see that you understand, they are more willing to compromise because you've earned their trust. Be authentic.
5. Leverage your strengths, delegate your weakness - Being told about a weakness is difficult. After a coaching session for example, counselees come away ignoring the strengths they've just heard and would often dwell on the weaknesses instead. But the best way to perform in any job is to keep leveraging your strengths or to find creative ways on how to delegate areas for improvement.
6. Be useful (vs. being successful) - Jim Collins recently gave a talk where he told the story about his near-obsession in seeing his first book (Good to Great) succeed. In a meeting with the great Peter Drucker, he had communicated his worries at length. At the end of his monologue, he says Drucker floored him by saying, "Jim, you worry too much about being successful. Instead, why don't you think about how to be useful."
7. Pick a topic and be excellent at it - There are many ways of being different. You can, for example, try to come up with a unique idea and run with that or you can use an old idea and deliver it with better quality. Bruce Lee says not to be afraid of the man who has 10,000 moves but to be afraid of the man who has practiced a move 10,000 times. Yes, yes it's cliché but that sounds a lot like quality, doesn't it?
8. Volunteer - Outreach organizations are a treasure trove of leadership programs. Drucker explains it best when he says that it's in these types of organizations where people learn to manage scarce resources, coordinate different personalities, deal with changing schedules, etc. It's a win-win situation for both the volunteer and the recipient.
There is more advice out there that will help jumpstart a career like being different, taking initiative, and learning to manage your boss but we'll cut it short for now and reserve those for future articles.