Recently, I was asked, “What are the most important things you’ve learned along the way? The question was asked within the context of business and especially as a woman in business. But whatever your current status, interests and aspirations, it’s a great self-test question worth asking from time to time.
I’ve summarised my response below, and it’s not necessarily in order of importance because I believe everything learned along the way is important!
READ THE POLITICS
Read the politics – yes, repeat intended! If you can’t read the politics you lose. Read the reality, not what you want it to be or what you think it should be. A hint here – the politics in any organisation never follows the official reporting structure.
If you’re not in, you’re out. This means doing a terrific job isn’t enough, you have to make an effort to be in the inner circle. The fastest way? Make yourself valuable in ways they consider valuable.
THE PRIZE GO TO THE MOST FLEXIBLE
That is, the people who’ll get the job done to get someone over a hump, the people who’ll see what needs doing and do it, the people who’ll go the extra mile (but none of this helps if you’re on the outer).
PICK THE RIGHT TEAM
Know that if the team you pick to play on (the inner circle) goes out of favour you’re out too. But sitting on the fence is very unrewarding.
Crawl before no person. Know YOUR limits and express them – knowing that some of our limits also limit our options.
Especially when someone is asking you to do something – are they asking you to do it yourself or to get it done?
No one else is going to. Hire women, work with them, expect a lot of them and reward them. Never pay a woman less than you’d pay a man for the job. Lean towards women – there are enough men leaning towards each other that we are in no danger of titling too.
Strength and independence come from having options and one of the best ways to have options is to save a little money. When I was starting I always put aside 10% of my net each payday. It was a very small amount of money but it added up. Yes I had bills that required every penny I earned but I deliberately did without things so I could save the money. I kept a card in my wallet with the running total of my savings – and when I wanted to spend money on something I weighed it up against the freedom I was building.
NEVER USE “I WANT”, “I FEEL” OR “I NEED”…
Instead start with things like “we’ve made such great progress, to take the next steps let’s consider…” Or “to get there we need to…” If you get stuck and can’t think of anything to say other than “I feel”, don’t say anything. Be silent while you collect your thoughts. Get advice from someone you trust, then try again when you know what you want to say.
You might not be confident, but if someone asks you to do something –they are confident you can do it. I used to imagine I was on the high wire in the circus and had to grab the ring as it swung up to get me. Fail to grab and you get nowhere – unless you’re where you want to.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Make your own luck and like the high wire ring, grab those opportunities.
DO THE EXTRA…
Focusing only on doing a good job is a rookie error. It’s the extra that gets you noticed – extra time, extra effort, extra jobs – do it for the right people in the politics and the in group.
DO THE JOB THEY WANT DONE
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with people. I know you know things should be different, I know sometimes you know what should be done and how things should be done. If you feel strongly, position your suggestion as “do you think we could do this…..? Or this way…? I believe we’d save… etc.” And if they say no – do the job they want done. There might be something you’re better at or is more fun – but do the job they want done.
If you’re not doing the job they want done – no matter how valid the job you are doing – you’re done.
GET OUT OF SUPPORT ROLES (If possible and desired!)
These are the most expendable and least appreciated because the people who get ahead spend very little time there. Understand the drivers of your organisation and find out what it would take to be a front row player.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST… This is the one I have lived by for years – GO THE EXTRA MILE!