There’s no shortage of advice about how to be more successful–more productive, more visible, more efficient, more creative . . . you name it.
But there’s an element of success that’s a little subtler–becoming smarter, wiser, more experienced and more insightful. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Shannon, who spent decades at Unisys, CIGNA and Citibank and then worked as a consultant, writes: “To create a successful career, you need to learn from many people and experiences and from your mistakes, then apply what you’ve learned to each new job or project you tackle. You can learn by reading, by talking with colleagues, by getting feedback from the people you respect, by attending classes or workshops, and from your on-the-job experiences.”
Here is Shannon’s advice on 7 steps you can take right now to build your skills and enhance the work you do:
1. Learn three important facts about your company and industry. Ask these questions: Who are your major competitors? What issue does your industry face? What obstacles does your industry face and what can your company do to overcome those obstacles? To succeed as a professional, you need to know as much as possible about your company and industry.
2. Take an imaginary elevator ride with the CEO. The elevator door closes, and the CEO turns to you and says, “So what have you done for our shareholders today?” Shannon advises that “Every day, you should have an answer to this question–and even if nobody asks, you may want to explain your job from time to time.”
That’s why you need an “elevator speech“–you need to be able to describe the value you add to your organization succinctly, in the time it typically takes to ride and elevator, and in language that any 12-year-old could understand. “Okay,” Shannon writes, “so your CEO is not 12, but if you think of a 12-year-old as your audience, your message will be crystal clear, and everyone will know what you do and how well you do it.”
3. Ask what top executives are reading. Shannon recalls working with “an extremely successful consultant. She always knew what book about business the CEO of her client company was reading. She would read the book, creating a brief overview for team members, and analyzing what principles from the book the team could apply to the project they were working on.” The idea? Learn from what the CEO is learning.
4. Walk a mile in the other’s guy’s or gal’s shoes. When you meet someone important in your business life–inside or outside the company–you want to know as much about that person as you can. Learn how that person measures success, how you can help a successful relationship and what actions you can take that will be valued.
Talk with (think “interview”) the person and find out what makes him or her tick. Ask a lot of questions: What motivates her? What excites her? What gets her angry? What makes her happy? What does she want and expect from you? How does she define success?
5. Collect inspirational ideas to leverage later. Whether these are actual paper files (How quaint!), files on your drive or links, these collections are where you put incredible examples of good and bad work to inspire or educate you as the need arises. Name one file Inspiration. Make another: Awesome. Other choices: Creative, Wonderful, Amazing, Hideous and Mistakes to Avoid. You should never have to stare at a blank screen and hope for inspiration–your idea files help you get the party started.
6. Ask great questions. Shannon’s advice: “Listen really hard to what someone is saying and then ask ‘basic’ questions like: ‘Why?’ ‘What difference does this make?’ ‘Who wins/loses?’ ‘Why do we care?’ Preface your first question by saying, ‘This may seem like a basic question, but . . . and just about every time, you’ll receive compliments for asking really good questions.”
7. Begin a big change today. “We all know that the only person who really, really loves change is a wet baby,” writes Shannon. “However, in order to grow and learn, you need to be able to change, too. An important part of getting comfortable with change is simply jumping into it every once in a while.”
How? Determine a topic you need to know more about, figure out how can best learn, and then act. Enroll in a class, call a colleague, set up a meeting, do whatever you need to do.
“Big success in your career starts with small steps,” advises Shannon. “Step right this way!”