Many people have heard the popular phrase “climbing the corporate ladder” in reference to the development of a person’s career. This conjures up mental images of pushing people out of the way to claw your way up to the top. This hyper-competitive view of the world has created a dour image of professional success in the minds of many people.
It is most certainly true that there is an element of “dog eat dog” competition when it comes to careers, but it is also true that there are many people who build highly productive, highly constructive professional careers. Ultimately, this is the goal that we strive for… to achieve professional success in a constructive manner that is compatible with a highly rewarding personal life.
Bearing this in mind, there are five key steps that we advocate following to accelerate your career. These steps are: 1) Think Like an Entrepreneur, 2) Don’t think of Work as a Four Letter Word, 3) Seek to Influence Important Decisions, 4) Leverage your Abilities by Leading Others, and 5) Measure Your Achievement Holistically.
1. Think Like an Entrepreneur
One of the best pieces of advise that an employee can follow is to think of themselves as an entrepreneur who depends on a single customer (i.e. their employer) for all of their revenue. The difference in mindsets is subtle, but profound. As an employee, you are showing up for work to do a defined job. As an entrepreneur, you are serving the interests of a customer, and must be perpetually certain to provide value that exceeds the cost of your services, otherwise the customer will be better off parting with your services and hiring somebody else.
By thinking of your employer, and co-workers as customers of your personal entrepreneurial business, it will provide the context and perspective necessary to propel you to high levels of achievement. Some people refer to this as being an “intrepreneur”… an entrepreneur who works inside of a company. As such, you should always be thinking of ways to provide a higher quality, higher level of service to your customers. You should always be thinking of ways that you can generate more value for your customers. As you follow this mindset, you will find that your employer takes notice of the value you are creating relative to other employees in the business.
2. Don’t think of Work as a Four Letter Word
The old fashioned notion of an 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday work week is just that… old fashioned. The current world is a place where “good enough” is no longer good enough. In order to excel, you must develop the mindset and the work ethic to go above and beyond what is ‘average’ so that you create exceptional value. One of the most common factors that hold people back is a desire to only do the minimum amount of work necessary to get by. Unfortunately, just enough to get by is not going to be enough for you to get ahead.
Simple arithmetic shows that if a person works a 40 hour week for 50 weeks per year, that is 2,000 hours of work per year. If you are willing to invest an additional 2 hours of work per day in getting ahead on work tasks, studying business trends to increase your value as an employee, or even running a side business, that equates to 500 additional hours per year of work time. Over the course of 10 years, this adds up to 5,000 hours of additional work time… the equivalent of 2.5 years extra experience relative to your peers who mailed it in after 40 hours each week.
This additional time does not necessarily need to come at the office. Many people use their office time for tasks, meetings, and other things that can only be done at the place of business and push other activities into the “off hours.” The exact structure of your additional work is less important than your willingness to do what is necessary to build the skills necessary for success. The world is not slowing down, and the competition is not letting up.
3. Seek to Influence Important Decisions
One of the key factors that influences the value of a particular employee to a company is the impact of the decisions they make or influence. This is why larger companies pay significantly more for executives who do what is effectively the same job as executives at smaller companies… the impact of the decisions are larger, so the board of directors decides to spend more money getting the highest quality talent to drive those decisions. Many people rail against executive compensation at major companies, but those who are astute can use the phenomenon to see an opportunity.
The opportunity comes from influencing highly important, high-impact decisions. The more you can ‘leverage’ the impact of your decisions out across the business, adjacent businesses, and other organizations, the more valuable your services will become. It is critical to understand that the people who occupy the highest levels in most organizations aren’t hired just to “do the job”… they’re brought in to influence high impact decisions. As your career continues, influencing important decisions will become an increasingly important part of your resume.
4. Leverage your Abilities by Leading Others
Another key aspect of driving value as an employee is the ability to drive results through others. It is important to not that this does not necessarily mean being a “manager.” There are many leaders who are not managers, and there are also managers who are not leaders. The important part is not to have people report to you, but to influence others to drive value. This is another key way that you can increase your value to an employer, since it multiplies the impact of your efforts. Seek out ways to amplify the impact of your work through teaching, inspiring, and influencing others.
5. Measure Your Achievement Holistically
The final key step to driving your career is to keep the big picture in mind. In practice, this means to understand that your life is bigger than your career. It means that you should not be spiteful when a person whom you judge to be less capable than you is advancing faster than you. It may be that they have invested time you are not aware of. It may be that they happened to find the exact right opportunity at exactly the right time. It may just be that they were more lucky.
Whatever the reason, it is irrelevant… the point of living your life is to live your life. Create your own standards for your achievement, and compare yourself against that. Don’t concern yourself with what other people have done or haven’t done. Only worry about creating the whole life that you want. Many people have ruined their lives by pursuing one part of their life with total disregard for anything else. The way that you can develop “true” success is to view each piece of your life as only a piece of your life… it is only the picture the pieces form when they are merged together that is truly important.
By Doug Utberg