If you’ve worked in an office, or any business with more than a few employees, you come across people who just seem to be destined for advancement. Yes, sometimes it is because they are good looking or have connections or went to the right schools or butter up the boss. However, those instances are far less common than you might think — and more often are just rationalizations that people tell themselves to feel better about being less qualified.
While it’s true that some people are better at some things than other people, the reality is that there are many ways to become a valuable employee. Some of those are natural abilities such as intelligence, a good memory (not the same thing as intelligence), being good with people, etc., but in our experience, even many of those innate talents can be learned — as can the single most important characteristic for career advancement: Leadership.
We all know people who seem to be born leaders: They stand out, seem to be self-confident, usually make sense — and people listen to them. Not everybody likes them, perhaps, but almost everybody respects them. Yet as effortless as many leaders make it seem, they almost always have to work at it on some level.
Being a leader doesn’t mean that you always have to lead the charge or even stand out, but it does mean that people have to respect you, look up to you and want to follow you. The people you work for can see that. If your goal is to have a job where you manage people, you’ll be a lot more successful if you learn to be a good leader. Here’s how:
1. Do a good job. I know, sounds obvious, right? But these days, there are a lot of people who don’t seem to get it. Mostly, they are focused on their friends, their romances, their outside interests or their online interests. They see their job as a necessary annoyance and try to spend as little time as possible thinking about it or working at it. The good news is that these people make standing out easy. Today, anyone who even tries to do a good job often looks like a superstar. If you are actually good at your job, you’ll automatically be on the fast track.
2. Learn your job. This is a bit different from doing a good job, yet learning what is expected of you at your job will make you a whole lot better at it. Most employers — at least the good ones — will clearly explain your job and train you to do it. However, after you’ve done your job for a while you’ll come to realize that it’s about more than you’ve been told.
For instance, if you’re an executive assistant to the firm owner, you’ll realize that your job is more than answering the phone and keeping the boss’s schedule. Your real job is to take as many petty tasks as possible off your boss’s desk.
Admins at small businesses such as advisory firms who are good at their jobs often end up running the firm as chief operating officers. The same is true for most other jobs. Once you realize what your job really is (and often, it’s simply making the clients happy), you’ll be much more successful.
3. Make your job better. Once you see what your real job is, you can start thinking of ways to do it more effectively, more efficiently or both. In advisory firms, often no one has done your job before, and if they have, they didn’t think about it very much. Consequently, you can make a significant contribution to the success of your firm by making your job better, which can often make the jobs of the people you work with better, too.
4. Be persistent. If you believe you’re on to a good idea, don’t give up if it gets put on the back burner or you get some pushback. Don’t be aggressive or get in people’s faces, but make it clear you think your idea will be beneficial. Often, good ideas need a champion, but be careful not to turn people off. Good leaders are so reasonable that it’s hard for others to disagree, but not so annoying that other people simply cave in.