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Get ahead with these 10 tips from a career coach

By Neil Bierbaum  February 2, 2017

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The workplace is a competitive arena, and the people who get ahead are those who know how to play the game, but also those who bring their unique abilities and outlooks to the field. Here are ten things I’ve learnt in my job as a career coach, helping others to excel at their work.

1. People will only be successful if they use their own strengthsBusinesspeople often want to model themselves on a high-profile successful person, like Richard Branson or Steve Jobs. But, those people became successful by being unmistakably themselves! Everybody is different and each person truly has a unique gift and a unique style for bringing that gift to the world. When people work to their strengths, they achieve all the success they deserve and are capable of.

2. It’s not what you do – it’s how you do it. Work has become less about doing, and more about being. A decade ago you could get ahead by being a grumpy, aggressive or critical manager as long as you could “do your job” well. More and more, employees are being measured not only on what they achieve (the technical performance measures of the job) but also on how they achieve it. The latter refers specifically to their relationships: Are they still connected to other people at the end of the project? Would other people want to work with them again?

3. Asking is better than knowing People think they need to look clever by knowing it all. The amount of information out there, and the level of complexity of today’s business world, means you can never know it all. Today it’s more about “not knowing” and asking the questions you need to in order to make good decisions. A good motto is: Ask more questions, make fewer statements. The entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX, is said to have built his empire in very complex industries by doing just this. 

4. You need to be connectedToo many people try to do everything themselves because nobody can do it better. This is never sustainable. People who try to get ahead without connecting and networking inside and outside of their organisations inevitably come unstuck. Remember, business decisions will be made by people, and people do business with people whom they like, whether they admit that or not. So get connected and build relationships.

5. Genuine interest and kindness will gain you support People mistakenly believe that work is work and private life is private, but they forget that they are working with human beings, not human doings, nor with machines. The philosopher Philo said, “Be kind, everyone you know is fighting a great battle.” This is true in the workplace. Having compassion and understanding when people underperform due to external stresses builds connection and also brings those people on side. This is not false or manipulative, if you are genuinely interested.

6. Goals should not be cast in stone Setting goals is important, but it’s equally important to hold them loosely, especially the time targets. Sure, you can control some deadlines, like a print deadline, but there are some targets – that big promotion, or that career-making deal – that are constantly moving. What you can control is setting goals, doing your best, and waiting.

7. Flexibility is vitalChange is a constant reality in today’s corporate world. You need to quickly assess the situation to identify what you cannot influence and make decisions based on what you can. This will vastly improve your ability to move forward and improve results.

8. Persistence is worth more than talent How quickly can you bounce back when you have a losing streak? A good analogy is when the ref blows the whistle in a sport like rugby. How quickly can you get back on your feet to defend? Learning to take the lessons from any setback, looking for the opportunities and getting back in the game after the big knocks is key to success. Being able to do this consistently is persistence, and persistence is much more reliable than talent, because it is under your control.

failing forward has become the catch phrase of this working generation.

9. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities It  is tempting to cover up mistakes to save face or avoid repercussions. But “failing forward” – meaning turning mistakes into stepping stones to success - has become the catch phrase of this working generation for a reason: owning mistakes and learning from them helps you grow, and earns you your colleagues’ trust and support.

10. We have to get good at the things machines can’t doIncreasingly, machines can do things that humans used to do. With the growth of artificial intelligence, the workforce of the future will need to be able to do the things that machines can’t do, which is to feel, relate and make judgement calls based on intuition. They will be the champions of this brave new world. 

The bottom line Hard work, flexibility, authenticity and connection are the keys to success in a changing workplace. If you are stuck in the rut of the way things used to be, start working on these points to earn your place at the head of the pack.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.

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