Career development is not always about moving up in the organization. It's more about constantly improving yourself and getting the most out of your job and work life. Regardless of whether or not you are interested in promotion right now, you are interested in standing out at work. To stand out in a good way, you need to be aware of the consequences of what you think, say, and do.
What to Think, or Not
• Think you can (and will) succeed:
People have confidence in us when we have confidence in ourselves, and few things lead to success like self-confidence. We gain confidence as our skill and knowledge grows. The trick is to have confidence to try new things, when immediate success isn't as likely as when we do things we've already mastered. To do this, go slow. Create self-development plans that ease you into a new task. It is easier to overcome small mistakes, and small wins keep you motivated and moving forward.
• Think good thoughts about performance feedback:
Performance feedback - particularly in review meetings - are our chance to talk to our manager about where we are, where we want to be, and how we might get there, in our job and in our career. Your attitude about receiving positive and negative feedback will help determine the outcome - whether the feedback is more developmental and future-focused or evaluative and focused on the past. Help your manager give you constructive feedback that helps you grow and reach your goals.
• Think about your work as more than a job:
Most of us have to do something to earn a living, but few of us don't have a choice about what we do. If you're in a job where you have no energy or enthusiasm in the morning, watch the clock all day, pray for the weekend all week, and long for vacations all year, you're spending about 40 percent of your life in the wrong place. To improve your attitude, you have to be where you want to be or have a clear plan for getting there.
• Think "excellence":
Doesn't it feel great to get through the day without challenging ourselves to learn something new or do something great? No? You're right. Go beyond the minimum effort, the easy way, and the safe path. Work hard to be the best you can be at work and home. You might be surprised how your attitude changes when you seek out challenges and fully commit to what you do.
• Think outside yourself:
Listen to your own conversations and notice how often you say the word I: "I think," "I want," "I wish," etc. We tend to think in terms of I, which is okay until it gets in the way of thinking about and relating to others. Put yourself in the other person's shoes, ask questions, seek new perspectives, value the opportunity to work with coworkers different from you (sometimes very different from you). Most of all, open yourself to new ideas, innovations, changes, and different points of view. Don't go through life thinking "I" is all there is.
What to Say, or Not
• Don't use inappropriate language (like swearing):
Too obvious? Perhaps, but people make this mistake too often - even U.S. Presidents. Besides George W. Bush getting caught a couple times on open mikes, Richard Nixon takes the prize for rattling off offensive words in practically every conversation recorded on his infamous Oval Office tapes. The language hurt them, as it will you. Swearing is nearly always offensive to somebody, and it's a bad habit to get into at work.
• Don't complain and argue (too much):
You can complain, but offer solutions. You can argue, but do it as reasonable and respectful dialogue. Organizations need people to challenge the status quo, and they need people to disagree; otherwise, nothing changes or gets better. But organizations also need people who move the business forward and do not resist every suggestion or new initiative. Don't be afraid to stand up. If you've got a legitimate gripe, present it professionally and constructively.
• Don't talk behind backs:
It can add spice to the workday to get in on the rumor mill, to gossip, to talk about people who aren't around. Don't do it, don't encourage it, and avoid listening to it. You don't have to be a prude to not speculate or speak negatively about people. It occurs so often, you will really stand out and earn the respect of your manager and coworkers if you don't do it.
• Don't talk about personal problems:
Our private lives don't have to be private. Tell your coworkers about your family, your neighbors, your work in the community, etc. Avoid, however, going into great detail or length about personal problems from outside work. It may help you to talk about them, but it doesn't help you stand out as a professional and focused person who can leave problems at the door.
• Don't talk sex, politics, or religion:
We know these subjects are taboo at social gatherings; they are at work as well. Few things will spur a conflict, or at least, leave a negative impression of you with others, than to state a firm position about sex, politics, or religion. Regarding sex, strict federal laws exist prohibiting sexual discrimination and harassment. Be careful with comments, jokes, e-mails, and the like.
What to Do, or Not
• Look and act professional:
If you want people at work to take you seriously, take their perceptions of you seriously. Always be professional and mature, and watch your appearance. Be professional by meeting commitments and respecting your responsibilities to others and yourself.
Watch your appearance by being well groomed (bathed, trimmed, combed, etc.) and well dressed (accepted clothing for the position you want, tucked in shirt, clean shoes, matching socks, etc.). Be mature by behaving like a reliable grownup. Have fun at work, and at the same time, let people know you can handle difficult situations with a level head.
• Create growth opportunities for yourself:
In a rapidly changing work environment, people who stand still are actually moving backward. No one will hold your hand and force you to grow; you have to show initiative and create your own opportunities. How? Read, observe, listen, use a mentor, volunteer, take advantage of meetings, and speak up. Get in the habit of looking at life and work with the eyes of a learner and improver.
• Build relationships:
The person sitting beside you right now might be a CEO some day. Some relationships you form early in your career will last throughout it. You don't have to meet and befriend everyone in the office, but take care of the relationships you value or the ones you need to get things done. Build networks that help you and your career. It's who you know and who knows - and feels good about - you.
• Make mistakes:
Really? Of course. Not on purpose, obviously, but we grow and improve when we try new things and venture out of our comfort zone, and that's when we make mistakes. Don't make big mistakes that are hard to recover from (like investing all of your retirement savings in one stock), but create development plans that allow for small mistakes that you can learn from. Be innovative, be bold, and be ready to make the most of your mistakes.
• Be flexible:
"That's not my job." "I don't want to do that." "You don't pay me enough." Ever heard these statements ... or said them? Managers have a demanding job that requires them to juggle many different tasks and tackle whatever comes along. Get in the habit now of adjusting your routines, shifting gears, and putting in extra effort when needed. Question things that don't seem right to you, if necessary, then jump in and give it your all.
Think, say, and do the right things every day, and you will stand out at work and move steadily toward your career goals.
Dave Neal has helped develop thousands of employees and managers in organizations around the world for over 15 years. He is a senior partner at 4th Street Training. [4thstreettraining.com site can’t be reached]