How to Stop Playing it Safe and Get Ahead at Work
Black Enterprise Magazine July/August 2018 Issue

Chances are if you’re reading this article, you have a strong desire to get ahead at work but there is a voice in your head that tells you that you’re not qualified, a belief that you’ll look incompetent or stupid in comparison to your colleagues, or a fear of a negative reaction from your boss. Well, here’s the thing about achieving anything you want in your life—being uncomfortable is part of the process. Now is the time to stop playing and start making the moves to get ahead at work and in life.

7 Ways to Get Ahead At Work

1. Assess, challenge, and eliminate your self-limiting beliefs – While many people equate getting ahead to having the right training, skills, and qualifications, the reality is it really boils down to your mindset and level of self- confidence. Have you ever taken the time to ask yourself why you believe what you believe? Many of our beliefs—especially when it comes to money, love, and finding a fulfilling career— stem from our childhood and they may be outdated or untrue.

Change your relationship with failure and rejection. Failure is feedback for your come-up and rejection is a redirection to the right path. Stop waiting to feel 100% ready. Confidence isn’t a one-time event, it’s a series of actions and baby steps. Making a weekly commitment to challenge at least one of your self-limiting beliefs can help boost your confidence.

2. Identify the success metrics that are really important for the company and your manager – Are your daily tasks and goals aligned with what your company or manager really cares about? What keeps them up at night? What are their top two or three priorities or success metrics (e.g., repeat customers, reducing employee injuries, increasing demand for a particular product)? How can you quantitatively measure your accomplishments and results? This way, when it comes time to articulate the value you bring to the workplace and the reasons why you should get promoted, you can paint a clear picture of your capabilities and impact to the business’s bottom line.

3. Find one or two sponsors in your workplace who are aware of your strengths and desire to get ahead, have observed your style and behavior in real-life situations, and can advocate on your behalf for promotion and advancement at work. Your sponsor should have a mix of influence, credibility, and power in the workplace. Schedule a meeting with them so you can ask questions and gather feedback about navigating the company’s culture and politics. For instance, where is the business headed? What are the top priorities or pain points? What skills and specific behaviors do I need to demonstrate to get ahead? What’s the communication style of the hiring manager and the best way to present myself for opportunities?

4. Think beyond your role or job: Sometimes, when changes or problems arise at work, we often think (and complain) from a departmental view, which focuses on our own needs and limitations. If you’re looking to get ahead, you have to understand the market demands and company-wide factors that may have influenced those tough decisions. By thinking this way and encouraging your colleagues to see the bigger picture, you can position yourself as a change agent within the company who can drive the vision, and get buy-in from other employees while increasing your visibility as a leader at work.

5. Walk into a meeting fully prepared to ask questions and add value to the discussion. If you’re looking to get promoted at work, your behavior and actions toward others will be a key consideration for the person who assesses your performance.

Also during meetings, stop being solely focused on taking notes, so you can speak up and engage. Although having notepads, laptops, and smartphones make it easy to take notes; sometimes it distracts people from seeing your true leadership potential.

6. Find stretch assignments—a specific project to develop experience and/or expertise outside of your regular routine tasks. Once you’ve demonstrated working at your level, be proactive at finding assignments where you can work above your level. Your work sponsor can also help you land stretch assignments.

7. Understand this: rules are meant to be broken – Let’s say you review a job vacancy for a promotion at work but the requirements state the applicant must have 5+ years of experience but you only have two years’ experience—apply anyway. Here’s the thing, sometimes, transferrable skills matter and personality can trump skills set during the hiring process. Besides, even if you get the interview but don’t get the job, it’s an opportunity to ask the hiring manager for feedback which can set you up for success in the future.

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