Last week I wrote about "own goals"and the importance of not committing them in your career. A reader asked a good question:
"What if I am busy scoring against myself and I don't even know it? How can I find out?"
In the original posting I talked about a few basics such as arriving late/leaving early, and dressing inappropriately. But some "own goals" are more subtle and therefore harder to catch without a good boos or mentor coaching you along. These would include mistakes such as leaving key stakeholders off the distribution list on important e-mails and/or coming to meetings unprepared or over-prepared with the wrong focus and falling down in front of a cross-functional team.
How can you learn about the subtle behaviors that may be taking you down without your even knowing about it?
First,determine that you will be open to feedback. Really open to feedback. Not just willing to hear it, but willing to write it down and ask clarifying questions to make sure you really get it. Willing to go home and review the feedback and reflect deeply on how others are perceiving you. Willing to go to the library or surf Amazon and find books on the topics that were themes in the feedback you heard. Willing to write a thank you note to the person who gave you feedback and tell them how you are putting their feedback to work, and requesting their permission to come talk to you again in the future so you can keep learning. I'm suggesting you determine that you will be THAT open to feedback.
Then,think back over the feedback you have received throughout your career (including things you heard/learned about yourself in college and things your parents told you) and figure out what the themes are. If we are honest, there are always core themes to the feedback we have received, and the best way to grow and develop is to attack our issues at the core. I talk too much. It's a fact. I am not proud of it, but if I cannot admit it, I cannot address it. The times in my life when I have received feedback from mentors that I was not strategic enough, I can trace directly back to speaking out before listening thoroughly. In the times when I have struggled to develop a professional relationship with an annoying peer, if I am honest with myself, I know that if I talked less I could get to a solution faster. What is your "Achilles heel" that is the thread through all of the feedback you have received? Do you talk too much/too little? Plunge in without a plan or hold back and never take initiative? etc. Only you know what your particular issue is, but the sooner you admit it, the sooner you can use it to make sense of the other feedback you receive.
Third, go to your boss, or boss' boss and ask if s/he will answer three questions for you: What am I doing that you would like me to continue the same? What am I doing that you would like me to do MORE of or be BETTER at? "What am I doing that you would like me to STOP doing? THANK them for their feedback. Do not argue or explain - simply thank them. If you need to ask a clarifying question, ask for permission to do so, and then be succinct and crisp about it. Then put the feedback to work.
Next, make it a point to talk to leaders in your company, industry, or local business community whenever you can. Have a few planned questions that you can use to glean as much knowledge as possible from anyone who has been successful. One of my favorites is, "What's the most basic career lesson you wish every single one of your employees knew?" Other great questions include, "If you could do the first year (or 5 years) of your career over again, what would you do differently?" "If you were new to the career world and starting out today, how would you approach it?" "What's your best advice for getting along with the people you work with?" Put this advice in to practice - use it and make it work for you! In this way, you become a student of successful people and you will learn a lot of things that business school doesn't teach you. You will probably also make a lot of friends because all decent people love to talk about things they have learned and help others grow.
Finally, commit to getting up each time you fall down. You will make mistakes. Jump back up, and have another go at it. If you are faithfully employing the first three points mentioned above, you are probably not going to make any single devastating mistake that will destroy your career. But you will occasionally blunder - apologize, figure out what you learned, maybe even keep a journal and write them down (a blog is actually good for that!) and move on.
Here's to a great rest of the week, and a great career!