Skip to main content
leadership lab

Roy Osing is former executive vice-president of Telus, educator, adviser and author of Be Different or Be Dead.

There is an urgency about moving on in your career; you’re not getting any younger and the competition isn’t getting any easier.

These six practical and proven ideas will help you either get going or will accelerate you down the current path you’ve chosen.

Invisibility begets ignorability

Get noticed in a crowd of people all looking to advance themselves. You must be competent in your current role, of course, but if you are indistinguishable from your colleagues, you have no way of being on a decision-maker’s radar.

It’s funny that getting noticed is uncomfortable for many people; they don’t like drawing attention to themselves. It’s almost like we’ve been taught at an early age that it’s somehow “not right” to do things that make us stand out in our class – we think it makes us arrogant and narcissistic.

Well, you need to get over that, if that’s how you feel.

Develop a “be visible” plan that, in a simple and factual way, presents your achievements and what you do day-in and day-out to execute your organization’s strategy.

Value is the end game

Create value that people care about. The focus must be on the benefits you create for the organization (and for people), as opposed to delivering a project or beating a due date, for example.

For instance, it’s admirable that you completed your project two weeks ahead of schedule, but what’s more important is the benefits you delivered to customers or employees or shareholders, earlier than expected.

Realize that the project or task you’ve been given is just the internal vehicle for adding value. Keep your eyes on your contribution to the marketplace within which your organization operates.

By the way, if you are successful with this approach, other organizations will notice.

Differences must define you

Be the only one that does what you do. If you’re not different than everyone else in some meaningful way – in a way that contributes to the goals and objectives of the organization – you will be viewed as nothing more than a common member of the herd and will have difficulty achieving a breakthrough in your career.

Sameness begets mediocrity; copying shows zero originality. You must find your own way to break the mould of commonness and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are five ways to do that:

  • Invent your own problem-solving method using crowd sourcing, or canvassing others;
  • Do more of what was asked;
  • Do the opposite of what the pundits preach;
  • Use trusted external resources for added credibility;
  • Launch additional projects from your original task.

Doing it is 10 times better than talking about it

“A little less conversation, a little more action please.” Elvis Presley

It’s not about intent; it’s about getting stuff done in the trenches where life is messy and people never behave the way you expect them to.

It’s easy to declare what you want to achieve and sell your idea on its theoretical merits. But in the final analysis, unless that notion actually produces something, it’s basically useless.

Getting it done relies largely on the right hemisphere of the brain where emotion, passion, tenacity and perseverance live, not the left brain that houses logic and intelligence.

Expending emotional energy to overcome barriers is vital to implementing a good idea.

My rule of thumb is to spend 20 per cent of your time on the idea and 80 per cent on implementing and tweaking it.

Find a ‘done it’ mentor

Find a mentor who has done stuff. Most people look to the person who knows stuff as their source for career advice and guidance. After all, most “experts” have knowledge credentials posted after their names – doctorates, and master and bachelor degree designations, for example.

In my experience, however, the people to look up to are those individuals who have proven they can deliver results. They are the ones who should be listened to and followed.

I know many smart people who have achieved less than their potential because they put all their trust in the way things should work – based on theory – as opposed to pouring their energy into finding a way to make them work in the hard realities of people’s biases and internal politics.

My mentors always had the subliminal tag “master crafter in doing stuff” associated with their name.

Be open to anything

Do anything asked of you and do it with eagerness and an open mind. I have seen many high-potential people fall by the wayside because they were picky about what they did to the point that they refused to take on certain projects because they didn’t want to set themselves up for failure by trying to achieve something they felt they were not qualified to do.

Unfortunately, their actions were perceived as an unwillingness to help the organization achieve its strategic goals, to take on the personal risk necessary to deliver even though they may not be perfectly qualified.

And they found themselves in the camp of individuals who were never again asked to lead projects of a strategic nature; their career stalled.

The point is, upwardly mobile people are expected to overreach every once in a while, to go for something that is beyond their capability. They treat the opportunity as a source of learning and growth and are okay with the inherent personal risk involved.

These six tips won’t be found in any textbook. They are all based on what actually worked for me in the real world. Good luck.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.