Hard work and good results are never enough. Good performance and producing results are simply the minimum requirements to be eligible for advancement and success. If performance and results are not present, then nothing else can happen. If hard work and good results are not enough then what does it take to “get ahead?” Many people who work hard and produce good results rarely get more opportunities to grow or to lead. If you aspire to do more, to advance, or to “succeed” then, in addition to your ability to produce, you’re going to have to develop a robust set of “soft skills.” Managing relationships, emotional intelligence, improving perception, creating visibility, developing influence, and dealing with politics are as important as your performance is in being given opportunities to grow or to take on more responsibility.
I am extremely fortunate to have worked in a great company for the last twenty plus years. I have had great mentors, leaders, and colleagues from which to learn. I have seen a lot of opportunities and what others call success. What you may not know is that my career was very stagnant for about the first five years with few opportunities for growth. It wasn’t until I realized that I needed to do more than produce a good result that things began to change. It wasn’t until I actively changed my way of thinking that my job started to change. What happened that caused my career to change? I did. I was my own biggest problem.
The most significant difference between you and “the boss” is often not what you know or how smart you are. You may indeed be much more intelligent than those above you. The biggest difference is usually in how you think. It’s been said, “The one who knows ‘what’ will always be the servant of the one who knows ‘why.’” I have found this to be true. I’ve worked for and with some great leaders. One of the best benefits of these relationships has been learning how these leaders think. While I am no mind reader, by observing and asking questions, I have been able to glean valuable information on how to manage and lead in an ever-growing, ever-changing complex enterprise and I have gained insight into managing complex relationships. I actively sought to learn to think like the boss. I do not have to agree, but it is to my advantage to understand the thought process.
“The one who knows ‘what’ will always be the servant of the one who knows ‘why.’”
Relationships matter. Relationships matter more than any other single thing because people do business with people. Learning the importance of relationships was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn as I am an introvert and my default is to keep to myself, keep my head down, and grind through my day. “Profound Relationships” is one of the Leadership FIRSTS (more about FIRSTS here) because value is only created by people, is only delivered through people, and is only consumed by people. Everything else is either a tool for people to use or a measurement of what they have produced. If you can’t work with and influence people, including some very challenging personalities, you will be very limited in what you can achieve.
“Value is only created by people, is only delivered through people, and is only consumed by people.”
Emotional Intelligence is another area in which I have to work hard. Intuitively understanding someone’s goals, dreams, and motivations is not something that comes naturally for me. I tend to be very logic driven and focused on facts. I am also not prone to self-reflection which probably hinders my efforts to understand the feelings of others. I’ve learned a lot through observation, learned better how to read non-verbal cues, read books on emotional intelligence and related subjects, and generally tried to become a better leader by understanding the uniqueness of my team members. I am sure some of my team could discuss how I fall short here, I certainly do not claim to have mastered this, but I find that making an effort will make you more effective as a leader and will help you avoid some of the pitfalls that can come in a career. Having strong emotional intelligence can also protect you when you come across the occasional “bad actor” that seeks to do harm. Developing emotional intelligence will serve you well.
Improving perception is something we can all do. Early in my career I became known as “Dr. No.” I was very misguided and, thus, proud of this reputation. I did not have an “epiphany” but over time realized that this perception was hurting my career. I set out to change that perception. I wanted to be a helper and facilitator, one who helped others get things done and to achieve their goals. How you are perceived, rightly or wrongly, affects your results, your opportunities, and your influence. You should manage perception so that it more closely aligns with who you know yourself to be and communicates the value that you are adding. Be known for the value you add. You can begin to make changes in your life and career by better managing how you are perceived and finding better ways to communicate your value.
“Be known for the value you add.”
Creating visibility with the right stakeholders is a difference maker. Simply put, if the right people are not aware of the value you add and your capabilities, then new opportunities will rarely come your way. Introverts tend to operate in stealth mode which is one reason why more extroverts tend to be in leadership. If you are like me, then you are going to have to work harder to make your value known. Are extroverts better leaders? Not necessarily but it is generally easier for extroverts to get the visibility necessary to be able to advance. I almost missed a turning point in my career because the decision makers above my boss (who was retiring) did not know me or my value add well enough. I got the job and, about a year and a half later, my newer boss told me that if he had known just 10% more about me, the decision would have been a “no-brainer.” Like managing perception, you have to make an effort for those further up in the organization to understand and have visibility to the value you add. The key decision makers that impact your career may be one, two, or more levels above your current boss. When faced with known versus unknown, most people will default to what (or who) they know. Make sure you are known!
Influence has been written about extensively. It is at the core of being a leader but is also a product of many of the above factors we have discussed. Performance, relationships, how you are perceived, and your visibility all have a profound impact on your ability to influence others and to lead. Leaders in my organization often do not control all of the functions that impact their results. Their ability to achieve their goals is tied to their ability to influence other functions in the company. The higher up you go in an organization, the more you must lead by influence rather than position. True leaders are people of influence.
“True leaders are people of influence.”
Politics are a factor in every organization of every size. Tom Peters wrote recently, “If you cannot manage politics you will never lead anything of any size. Ever.” I occasionally hear someone complain about the “politics” in their company. By this, they mean that some individuals have an “unfair” advantage over others due to relationships they may have with senior leaders. I define organizational politics as, “the art of managing competing agendas and motivations to deliver the best result for the organization, customers, and stakeholders.” Rather than cast organizational politics in a negative light, realize that your objective is to deliver the best result for all stakeholders and to do that you must work with the people necessary to achieve the desired result. People matter! You will always have these dynamics in anything you want to accomplish. Those that learn to manage through organizational politics will always be more successful. Don’t be afraid of politics.
“Organizational Politics is the art of managing competing agendas and motivations to deliver the best result for the organization, customers, and stakeholders.”
Once again, hard work and good results will never be enough. They are the minimum requirements for any future oppportunities. To do more, to add more value, and to achieve more you will have to work on the soft skills. These are areas in which I am striving to improve. Being aware of them and continuing to grow in each one of these areas can only help you develop as a leader.
What do you think? If you think I’m on point (or not!) I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help, please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.
For more information, please visit www.leadershipfirsts.com.
By Alan Buttery