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You’ve no doubt heard it said many a time by someone or another in your workplace: The only way to get ahead is to “suck up” to the boss. But is it possible that what some people call “sucking up” may simply be learning how to work with your specific supervisor or manager?

In my leadership training and mentoring practice, I have had the opportunity to dialogue with tens of thousands of managers in organizations across the country, and they are unequivocal in their assertion that they can identify the “actors”; they know when their employees’ actions and behaviours are self-serving and when they are selfless. So if this is true, then “sucking up” is clearly not the reason why certain employees get ahead. Which raises the question: what is? Here then, gathered from my conversations with the people who should know, are nine specific things you can do to rise in the ranks.

Do good work

Do your current job well. Extremely well. This is a baseline expectation. If you can’t show the powers that be that you’re tremendously capable of producing great work consistently, then none of the remaining eight actions will matter.

Step up

Show initiative. Don’t wait to be asked. Tackle things that are outside your direct responsibility. Put your hand up for new projects or task-force teams. Probe to find out what duties you can take off your boss’s plate to make his or her life easier. Seek out and jump on opportunities to add value. And pro-actively identify problems.

Don’t just identify problems, offer solutions

Speaking of recognizing problems, go beyond and propose possible resolutions. Even better, suggest several alternatives and make a recommendation. Making a sound recommendation demonstrates that you have strong critical-thinking and decision-making skills, greatly valued in just about every organization.

Keep your commitments

If you say you’re going to do something, do it. And by the date you promised. If you can’t deliver on a commitment, let the person know. Tell them why and by when you will come through. Nothing destroys your credibility more than broken promises. So don’t inadvertently sabotage your success.

Think big picture

Nothing will kill your career faster than focusing solely on your individual interests. Show that you have your organization’s (or department’s) best interests at heart. Sometimes that will mean putting your own needs on the back burner. But doing so will demonstrate that you are invested in the success of your team and company.

Write things down

No one likes repeating the same things over and over, and bosses are no exception. So take notes when you’re talking to your manager and clarify what is needed while you’re there. Asking good questions and then recording in the moment what you need to remember is never a bad idea.

Be low maintenance

Dial down the drama. The reality of any workplace is that you’ll have to work with different personalities, some of whom you won’t always get along with. But don’t make your difficult relationships your boss’s problem. Unless your safety or work output is compromised, hold back on the gossip and keep your complaints to yourself. Be easy to work with, or risk getting a reputation of being high maintenance.

Own your mistakes

Despite your best intentions, things don’t always work out the way you may hope or expect. When that happens, don’t make excuses. Take ownership for the shortcoming or error. Explain the issue as concisely as possible, then focus your energy on evaluating possible solutions and make a recommendation to move forward.

Don’t act entitled

No matter how good your work is, or how much you believe you deserve a promotion, don’t walk around conveying that you expect it. You’ll just come across as arrogant, and no one, your boss included, will respond positively. Instead, trust that if you’ve invested effort in the first eight action steps, then being humble and approachable will just seal the deal for that promotion you want and deserve.

Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a leadership speaker, consultant and the founder of leadership development consultancy Turning Managers Into Leaders.

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