Are you stumped on how to respond to a problem at work? As you asses your situation, your colleagues, boss, or team, do you feel frustrated at the lack of forward progress?
You may feel powerless to change it. You may believe that your team or your boss holds the key to solving a problem and moving forward.
I’ve found that when we believe that, we often miss the simple, yet powerful things that WE can own and do right now that will accelerate a solution and lead us (and our teams) to success.
Recently, I wrote a career advice article for International Women’s Day about this. I realized that these actions have worked well for many successful men and women, so I decided to include them in your weekly post.
If you are feeling stumped, stuck, or powerless to change a situation, don’t forget that you have many choices. You can be the change you want to see when you take responsibility for your own success and intentionally choose to invest in yourself and take advantage of opportunities that already exist for you now.
And, you can do this even if you are in an environment that is not yet as enlightened as it could be.
My advice is based on been there, done experience on how to accelerate your own progress toward greater leadership, impact, and financial rewards now. How do I know?
I’ve been blessed with amazing opportunities: I’m one of the only 18% of women who serve on public company boards. I’ve cofounded an enterprise software company and served as EVP as we grew it to 1,100 people and enjoyed an historic IPO. The company was later sold for over half a billion dollars.
My career has not been a perfect straight line of success. It’s been more of what COO of Facebook and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg calls a “jungle gym.”
Yet, there were proactive steps I made, risks I took, habits I formed (or should have), and imperfect, sometimes painful, and slow responses to failures and setbacks that added up to breaking through obstacles of all sorts and succeeding.
I believe these are steps that every motivated person can take to achieve the leadership and impact for which you aspire. I believe that if you take action on even a few of these ideas, you will also see progress, sometimes in surprising, unexpected ways. Since there’s no one size fits all when it comes to career advice, discover ideas that work for you from these five actions:
1. Commit to your personal development every day.
You are the most influential person to your success. Achievement happens gradually, then suddenly – there are no quick wins in your business or career development.
It takes years of work, setbacks, and even reinventions to achieve the success you imagine. If it’s not a priority for you to develop yourself, why should it be a priority for anyone else? You are also happier and more productive when you are learning and growing.
I didn’t grasp this early on. Due to my family’s situation and my own fears, I didn’t go to college until I was 25; but I finished at 28, so I’m convinced it’s never too late to invest in our development.
Find something you can weave into your current schedule. It can start with a morning routine that energizes you. Or, even something as simple as attending a leadership workshop, or listening to any one of many podcasts on leadership and personal growth. My favorites include leadership expert Michael Hyatt and best-selling author Gretchen Rubin, as each of them shares their own struggles and practical ideas on how they overcame them.
The idea of personal development and leadership growth one day at a time is the genesis for my Pocket Mentor mobile app, which provides daily insights to grow yourself, your team, and your business right from your iPhone.
2. Seize the mentoring opportunities all around you.
Do you wish you had a mentor like Sheryl Sandberg or Sir Richard Branson who would give you advice, make introductions, and generally accelerate your success in work and life?
It’s true that a key way to breakthrough is with a mentor. However, that implies that your greatest opportunity to succeed lies in the hands of someone else.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
While it’s helpful to have a wicked smart, wildly successful VIP mentor like Sheryl Sandberg, that alone would not guarantee your trajectory of success.
In fact, the most important mentoring for your success is already within your reach. You just need to recognize it and take action to seize it.
As Shark Tank’s s Robert Herjavec writes:
“Stop the ‘will you be my mentor?’ emails and start being present to embrace the learning opportunities all around you. Ask your colleagues and executive team members for their points of view. Seek advice from your direct leader or leader once removed. Start having conversations and soaking in the mentorship moments.”
I’ve found that we do better with a variety of mentors. Are you asking for advice from leaders in your organization? When you don’t take advantage of mentoring opportunities already available to you, you will miss out on personal growth, and your path to fulfilling your purpose and succeeding at work and life will take longer.
One of the best ways to a win/win mentoring scenario is through a group. These range from an organized, fee-based mastermind, or Vistage, to an informal group you start or join.
Your group can be as simple as an informal monthly breakfast club, which is what I’ve enjoyed. For years our group of women has met one Friday morning a month. We have informal coffee and a brief program where someone shares an opportunity or problem, or their latest business idea.
Everyone offers insights and solutions, and (99% of the time) an introduction or opportunity from their own network.
Every woman in the group has benefitted, including my friend Danielle Tate, already a very successful business owner, who recently published a wonderful book called Elegant Entrepreneur. I met Danielle through the group and she interviewed me for her book. Many of us in the group were thrilled to invite our friends to her book launch party.
Other members of my breakfast club include a CFO of a hot Tech company, SVP of a Global Commercial Real Estate firm, and several women who have launched their own small businesses. The group has been instrumental in offering advice, introductions, and it’s a fun way to meet new people.
In many ways, the group option is even better than having just one mentor – a group represents many individual hubs and spokes of insights, friendships, introductions, and solutions.
Take the initiative to grow more. As a first step, start with a small group of people you know (even if they are at your own level) and grow it.
Surrounding yourself with smart, positive, solutions-oriented people can be the key to overcoming obstacles and setbacks, or recognizing and seizing opportunities.
3. Take risks.
A few years out of college, I started a marketing consulting firm but had to put it on hold when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with a terminal illness. My husband and I moved to Australia to live and work there and spend more time with her and my father in law. While we were there, she actually got better, and her illness went into remission.
Moving to Australia was an unexpected detour. Yet, while we were there, we worked at interesting jobs and found we’d gained valuable skills, such that we decided the time was right to act on our dream of starting our own business.
We put a plan in place, moved back to the US, recruited family and friends to invest, and launched enterprise software company, webMethods, Inc.
It was a typical start-up experience with the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and a near death experience – financially speaking – as our bank account dwindled to its last $33 and our credit cards were maxed out.
Fortunately, through a series of trials and errors, our team grew the business and became the global company I described earlier.
Starting a business can be one of the riskiest things you’ll ever do, but it also opens doors of learning, growth, and an opportunity to make an impact that would not happen otherwise.
You will earn respect and a growing list of of amazing people who want to help you succeed and advance when you take risks.
4. Invest in your communication skills.
Success is 15 percent due to professional knowledge and 85 percent due to “the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people,” according to Dale Carnegie.
Good communicators aren’t born, they work at it. Highly effective communicators move ahead faster and generate better results. Communication is leadership. If you’re intentional about constantly improving, you will find that you and your team will achieve goals more effectively – and will go further, faster.
For communications skills in general, there are a number of resources from workshops to books, like my favorite, Fierce Conversations to help you grow. I’ve listed several in my free giveaway, 7 Secrets To Highly Effective Communications.
This applies to men and women; although studies show that women have a more difficult time giving themselves credit.
“For too many women, the hardest part of being successful might be taking credit for the work that they do, especially when they work in groups.” – Kay Steiger, The Atlantic.
You may believe that “touting” your achievements and the achievements of your team is a sign of hubris. But, when done wisely, giving yourself credit benefits everyone.
Lets begin with you. It’s important to articulate it for yourself. When you step out from fear and limiting beliefs that say you cannot credit yourself for your accomplishments, you will gain confidence – the confidence you need to innovate and lead.
“I don’t care how distasteful you find it….Women who want to “change the ratio” but don’t self-promote are letting all of us down.”
Many people wisely embrace the idea that good leadership includes humility. But they don’t realize that taking little or no credit is NOT balanced. Researchers at the University of Chicago and MIT produced a “humility-hubris index” to prove the point:
“The index is designed to measure the amount of hubris and humility packed into any individual. To get a high score on the hubris-humility index, which is desirable, it is essential to have large quotients of both hubris and humility. If an individual has an abundance of one quality, but a shortage of the other, then he or she gets a low score. A lot of hubris cannot compensate for a lack of humility, and vice versa. In short, you need hubris and humility if you are to be a first-rate thinker….”
When you give yourself credit, you will be following the best practices of businesses, nonprofits, and other leaders.
Every business, nonprofit, or enterprise of any kind earns credibility by sharing key metrics. When I was a kid, every McDonald’s had a sign that said “over 1 billion served.” You establish and extend your credibility when you share your accomplishments.
Creative artists take credit for writing songs, films, and books. Leadership experts like John Maxwell share that he is privileged that millions have benefitted from his ideas.
It’s essential that others know of your contributions. Your customers, investors, partners, influencers, board, and especially your boss want to know.
Key stakeholders want to know who is leading, and there should be no ambiguity.
Think about the leaders you admire in business, public service, politics, faith communities, authors, speakers, inventors, etc. – every one of them must share some of their achievements, results, and successes in order to gain the credibility, authority, and following they have.
Tara Mohr, author of “Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead” offers practical ways for women to strategically tout their accomplishments.
Now go on and give yourself (and others) credit; it’s what good leaders do.
All of these are actions you can begin to take today.
And as you take action, one day at a time, I believe you will greatly accelerate your success; regardless of the environment you are in.
Your Turn: What strategies helped you advance in your own career and overcome setbacks at work? I am always looking for new ideas to share with our readers, so please reach me directly at Caren@carenmerrick.com with any tips you may have – Thanks!