The people who have the most successful, happiest careers are the ones who are truly superstars at what they do. They invest in things that matter and focus energy on becoming the best. So how can you be someone who doesn’t just show up and get the work done, but who shines and excels while doing it?
Standing out in the work environment is difficult, especially if you work on a big team or at a company where excellence is the norm. To help you become a career superstar, take a look through a list of our top five lessons to help you shine as a leader and make the most out of your career.
1. Write down your goals: Accomplishing your goals is similar to planning a trip: once you decide where you want to go, you have to plan how you’re going to get there, your time frame, and which steps you need to take along the way to reach your destination if you want to actually arrive there. Having goals is important for staying focused in the long run, since just showing up for the daily grind isn’t enough to help you take big career leaps.
Everyone shows up. You have to plan if you want to do more: you need to know what you want to accomplish and what steps you’ll need to get there. When goal setting, think in terms of three different time frames: what do you want to accomplish in the short-term (6 months – 1 year), the intermediate-term (3 – 5 years), and long-term (12 – 15 years).
This can be extremely daunting, but short-term goals help build toward long-term goals. Do you want to own your own software company? Well, if you aren't able to start that company today, figure out what is standing in your way and make a plan to knock down those hurdles before you start your business, or you risk letting the years go by and nothing happening.
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay
Putting your plans on a concrete time frame will help you stay on track so you don’t put your big goals and dreams on the back burner when life, work and other responsibilities get in the way. Prioritize your goals to make them happen.
Schedule time each week to work specifically towards accomplishing your goal and set aside an additional 15 minutes each week to monitor your progress, investigate next steps, and correct the course.
2. Ask for feedback: As the saying goes, we are often hardest on ourselves. At work, superstars tend to push themselves to be better at everything (which is a good thing), but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what you need to do to improve yourself and truly be amazing at your job. After all, you only have one perspective. That’s where asking for feedback comes in.
When you invite feedback, you make it possible for yourself to truly become great. By getting outside opinions on your work, you are suddenly able to improve more quickly than if you are relying solely on your own evaluations. Other people have different perspectives, values and insights to share — by inviting as many of them as possible, you provide yourself a wealth of knowledge to make yourself even better.
If you’re just starting out asking for feedback, a great place to start is with your boss, since he or she has the closest understanding of what success in your role looks like. Not only will getting feedback from your boss help you do more of the work that matters more successfully, but increased communication and face-time is valuable for building trust and rapport that helps to make you stand out on your team.
When asking for feedback, there are important factors to keep in mind. Most importantly, don’t get defensive. Even if you disagree with the feedback, rather than arguing, ask for an example of the negative behavior and get more context so you can understand his or her perspective. (Even if you don’t end up using the feedback, this can be valuable for understanding what matters to this person so you can work better with him or her in the future.)
The next important factor to asking for feedback is to try what’s recommended. Feedback can’t help if you don’t do anything with it. You may later decide you don’t like the new method, but trying it shows you are open to critique and doing things a new way if it’s better.
3. Handle bad situations like a leader: Not every day at work is great, and as a leader, sometimes it’s your job to tell everyone when there’s bad news. Whether it’s a negative performance review or announcing a cancelled project, here are important tips for delivering bad news effectively.
Deliver the news in person to show you care and so you can respond to the employee or team’s reaction in an appropriate and timely manner. If an employee isn't performing, tell him or her immediately, rather than waiting until the only option left is firing the person. Give him or her the benefit of the doubt, listen to his or her concerns, and be open to emotion — remember you've had time to process your feelings, but this bad news is brand new to the other person.
Also, be straightforward and tell people exactly what is going wrong, so they know what they need to do to make changes and how success or failure will be measured.
Lastly, follow up – give your employee or team a reasonable amount of time to make the changes requested and then check in with them again to show you are aware of their progress. Ask questions, and make it clear you’re there to help. You want to always be an ally, even in a tough situation, since positive relationships are much harder to rebuild than a cancelled project or rough quarter.
4. Banish multitasking: Multitask is a misnomer – what we actually do is task-switch, and it’s no good. Humans can only do one cognitive task at a time, so “multitasking” is just about the worst mechanism for being efficient. Studies show task-switching can cost a person as much as 40% of productive time.
Instead of switching back and forth between projects, try following theOHIO principle: Only Handle It Once. This means if you start something, finish it before moving on to your next task. A great way to stick to the OHIO principle is to schedule blocks of time for you to check emails, respond to messages, check voice mails, or any other necessary tasks that pose distractions during the day. This way, instead of stopping everything to respond to an email every time you get a desktop notification (and incurring the extra time to find your place again in your work, try to remember what you were doing, etc.) you only check three times a day.
If necessary, you can prevent distracting emails, texts, phone calls or websites that tempt you to task-switch. Turn off desktop notifications, put your phone on silent (and in a drawer, so it’s out of sight), and use applications that help you block distracting websites, like the Self Control App for Mac users, or Cold Turkey if you run Windows.
5. Get to know your team: No matter how much you prefer to work alone, or how much of a genius you are, we all need other people to help us succeed. It’s not practical to do everything yourself, and it is simply true that opportunities come from other people — they don’t appear out of thin air. Authentic relationships are necessary for success, so instead of trying to build a relationship when you need something, start building those relationships now.
All it takes is an hour of your time: every week, take a peer or someone in your department out to coffee. Let them know it’s your treat and all you want to do is get together and chat. Ask them about their background, their goals, their career trajectory… become invested in who they are. When you get to know your work community, you will understand their personalities and work habits, and the better you’ll be able to work together.
On top of that, you’ll be investing in trust and good communication with the people who have the closest and biggest impact on your career success. The stronger your team relationships, the better the overall performance and the more successful you all become.
These five tips are simple, effective and help improve your career success trajectory, so there’s no time to waste – pick a tip to try out this week, get started, and watch yourself transform into a career superstar!