Former executive vice-president of Telus, educator, adviser and author of Be Different or Be Dead.
You successfully navigated school. You’ve mastered the art of getting by the recruiter/gatekeeper, persuaded someone that you are worthy of employment and could help their organization over the long run.
You landed the job you were after. Congratulations. The good news is that your’re in. The bad news is that you could be out if you fail to take the actions necessary to survive and thrive.
You are entering a new era of your life and career – a period during which success and fulfilment depend not on what got you to this point, but on acquiring the new skills and competencies necessary to get you where you want to go.
Your past achievements are less relevant to your future success; they may have influenced you getting through the door, but they guarantee nothing in terms of what happens from here.
Your past, including your education, are merely table stakes to play the career game; you need good credentials to be able to play the game, but you won’t win unless you build on them and become a different person.
These actions worked for me as I moved from my first position as an entry-level systems analyst to president of Telus Advanced Communications.
Be an expert
Be an expert on the strategy of the organization; know where it plans to go and the strategic imperatives it intends to execute to get there. If you don’t have an intimate understanding of the future direction of the company, you will be unable to determine where the career opportunities lie.
How many of you clearly understand the specific priorities that have been prescribed in the organization and the potential they afford you as a career player?
Your internal currency will be high among decision-makers concerning new opportunities if you can easily talk about the strategy of the organization and be able to offer thoughtful opinions.
If you are mute on strategy, you will have a truncated future.
Establish a strong network
Establish an internal network of individuals who are viewed as movers and shakers to enable you to be recognized as a member of the young and restless.
I did this early in my career with a number of my contemporaries and a senior leader who was committed to changing the culture of the organization to dilute the engineering influence − and he was an engineer! It worked out well as each of us was viewed as wanting to make a higher level of contribution to the future of the company. Word spreads...
Ignore your job description
Look for opportunities to go beyond your current job responsibilities. Nail your current job − exceed your performance expectations − and look for more responsibility.
Be that person who wants to make a difference in moving the organization to the next level.
Offer your services but don't ask permission; empower yourself and just do what you believe is right.
It’s too easy to copy what others are doing − and it’s deadly. Why would I be impressed with someone who blends into the crowd? Who looks like everyone else? I wouldn’t.
Look at everything you do through a be-different lens. I speak of this constantly because it is so critical in terms of how one is perceived. You must stand out from others, not merely be a member of the herd of people who have no distinguishing marks. “How can I do this differently?” should be the question that drives your action each day, every day.
For example, one way to be different is to have a contrarian perspective on matters. Do the opposite to what others are doing. Find a new box to play in.
Deflect personal recognition
Accept any personal recognition you get with grace and humility. But quickly pass it on to your colleagues who were with you in whatever part of your journey is attracting the attention.
Give them the plaudits as team heroes. You don’t need it to feed your ego. Focus on your end game; give the credit along the way to others.
Read until your eyes glaze over
Read. Read. Read. You need to be a voracious consumer of what thought leaders are saying and learn from them. Stay ahead of the IP curve and be prepared to add new value to the organization on a moment’s notice.
My most impressive mentors were authors who guided me and who enabled me to apply new thinking to business problems we faced. Seth Godin is a case in point.
Hone your communication skills and make it an integral part of who you are. It’s one thing to think differently, but if you can’t effectively communicate your thoughts to others and hook them with your passion, nothing happens and your brave idea dies.
Be loyal to a fault
Declare your loyalty to the organization through both word and deed. This is a challenge for many of you who will view your first job as one of many and who don’t plan on working for any one organization forever. My advice to you is this: be loyal to the organization while you are with them; do everything to get “loyal” integral to your young brand.
Get recognized as someone who doesn't have their eyes constantly on the next personal career horizon. Be comfortable with the notion that if better opportunities present themselves, fine, but don't spend every day looking for greener pastures. Others will see you for what you are and you will not move ahead.
These actions are pretty basic, but then success is all about pounding on the basics.
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