Take any opportunity that you have to change venues. There is something special about being in a different location, especially if you get to interact with new people. You get a different perspective which can give you a different POV and can help you think differently. You may get inspired to have new ideas, a new angle or an approach that you would not have had before. So look for opportunities to get out and about. Conferences, talks, offsites, and training events are a great place to start but don’t limit yourself because you never know what might provide you with that next spark.
The world is a small place, and certain industries are smaller than you think. You never know when you will run into someone that you have worked with before. So my suggestion is don’t burn bridges. I am always surprised by the number of people I run into that either I know from previous projects or where we have mutual acquaintances. And people have a long memory. If you were a positive or negative force, your reputation will be remembered. So it will help yourself in the long run if you keep all your options open.
For most of my career, when I would try to decide if I wanted to take on a new opportunity the path of my thinking was why should it be me. I would need to come up with all the reasons why I deserved the opportunity. Only after I had convinced myself that I should be included in the running, would I bring up the idea. However last year watching Russell Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, inspire the team with his Why Not Us message all the way to the Superbowl, I started to think differently. I thought about how best to translate Why Not Us into a new approach at work. So now when there is a new opportunity, I start with the question of Why Not Me instead of Why Me? I look around and see who is better than me for this opportunity? This is a 180 degree difference in the approach to the question and this has dramatically increased the number of times I now pursue an opportunity solely because I switched my frame of reference. So next time an opportunity comes your way ask yourself, Why Not Me?
Like any company you too can have a board of directors. If you rely on one person for advice then you might not get all the input you need. Your board should be a diverse group that think differently than you and can pose the big questions that need to be asked. It is best if you pick people whose judgment you value and whose opinions matter to you. So assess who you want on your board. It can be a combinations of coaches, mentors, advisors, innovators, clarifiers, sponsors, connectors, challengers, supporters, and energy lifters. As you can see there are a wide array of people who can help you and you can’t expect one colleague to fill all these functions. Innovators are those people who push you to think differently. Challengers will help you to act boldly since they can make you feel uncomfortable and have the ability to move you like no other. Clarifiers ask clear questions. Connectors can open doors for you to people that otherwise would be off limits. Energy Lifters can supply you with well needed fuel to stay the course or even change the course when needed. So take stock of those in your life, envision your Board of Directors table and start to fill it.
There is a big difference between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor is a silent supporter, one who pushes from behind. A sponsor, on the other hand, is bold enough to support you in front of others and help pull you into the light. Sponsors believe in you enough to put some of their own skin in the game, to bet on you for a project, opportunity, or new job. Getting a sponsor is not as easy as getting a mentor and neither are easy to begin with. I would venture to say that more than half of the people I know don’t have a sponsor. You can’t just walk up and ask will you be my sponsor. So you ask, how do you get one? The best way is to be passionate about what you do, be able to make a business impact, be visible to management, stand out in a positive way and continue to show that you are someone who has good odds to bet on.
It is nice to have people in your corner, contacts you can meet with to help advise you on work situations, to tell you how things work, to warn you of things to look out for, and to show you the ropes so you don’t need to learn everything on your own. This behind the scenes advice can be priceless so who wouldn’t want a mentor. But if you don’t have one yet, how do you go about finding a good mentor? Well sometimes they find you, but usually you need to seek them out. You may want to take stock of all the people you know from a work perspective (they don’t need to work at your company) and think about who you admire the most. Who seems to be able to navigate the political waters well? Who has the talents you are looking to excel in? Who has been in the group a while and can probably tell you the straight scoop? Then I would make an overture, to ask them for 30 minutes of their time. You should have your questions ready to make sure you are prepared and respectful of their time and insights. I find that most of the time, people are willing to share their thoughts if you approach them the right way. During this meeting it will be important to see if you have the chemistry to maintain an ongoing relationship. If so at the end of the conversation you should let them know that you appreciate their advice and counsel and ask if you could get together again. In this way the relationship can grow over time. If you don’t feel a connection, don’t press it. Move on and ask to get together with another person on your list. You will find someone who can advise you but you have to be willing to make the first move.
What is the personal statement that you want to make? What do you do best? What are you known for? What unique value do you bring to the table? These are all pertinent questions that will go into creating your personal brand. The most important part is to be authentic. Don’t try to be someone you are not. You need to be true to who you are but also understand that if you don’t spend time on creating your brand, it will be defined for you and chances are it won’t be what you would pick. So be proactive in creating your brand. Be honest with yourself as to what you do best, what your subject matter expertise is and what you want to be known for. If you don’t have all the skills you want, go about getting them to round out your package. Being in tune and defining your own brand makes it possible to project and share with others your unique value proposition.
An elevator pitch is a quick synopsis of what you do or your latest project that you can share with others or execs with no notice. So if you find yourself with an exec (we can assume in an elevator but it could really be anywhere) by yourself, you now have a short window of opportunity to initiate a one on one conversation and to make a statement about you or what you do. It is much less stressful to have this conversation starter at the ready than to make one up on the fly or worse yet, be speechless and let the opportunity pass you by. So if you don’t have one handy, why not put it together and if you do have one, make sure it is updated because your golden opportunity just might come tomorrow.
We will all have bad days. None of us is perfect, so don’t expect yourself to be. Don’t put that pressure on yourself. There will be meetings that don’t go well, projects that don’t turn out the way your boss has outlined, reviews that will surprise you and not in a good way. What really separates us is how quickly we pick ourselves up from disappointment to try again. To not wallow but to assess why things didn’t go well and move on. In soccer if you are dribbling the ball one minute and find yourself on the ground the next, you don’t just lay there while your teammates move down the field to try and score. Instead you get up as quick as you can to resume your position on the field. At work it is no different.
One of my most eye opening experiences was participating in a 360 feedback assessment where colleagues are requested to give you feedback anonymously. Because of the broad base of individuals I worked with, I was able to get feedback from nearly 30 people. What I found was that when colleagues knew that their feedback will not be tied to them personally, they were much more forthcoming with the areas of improvement. Since I had so many people participating, I was flooded with feedback. It was nice to hear the good things people see in you but it was the areas for improvement that I honestly felt were the most helpful. This was the first time that I had received some pretty clear feedback on deficiencies and shortcomings. It was a humbling and sober experience yet this assessment really opened my eyes to some vulnerabilities and gaps I would have been blind to had I not requested this type of feedback. Looking back on this exercise, it was probably one of the best things I have done to help myself improve because you certainly can’t begin to address what you aren’t even aware of.