Some people work at their jobs year in and year out, but they never put in any effort to stand out from the crowd, or distinguish themselves from delivering beyond what is routinely required of them. Zig Ziglar in his book – Over The Top – wrote about employees who spend 5 years on a job but do not have five years experience. Such people, Zig says, fail to become meaningful specifics in their workplaces. As a result, no one ever really reckons with them in the workplace. Sad, but true.
To the employee who truly desires to get ahead in the workplace, I say this: It is actually possible for you to develop yourself to deliver superlative workplace and/or personal performances perpetually – to the admiration and acknowledgement of those around you. How? By Practicing Self-Development – using the ten ways described below.
THE FIRST (1st) WAY – DEVELOP A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION
Your magnificent obsession would be your ambition in life – I like to call mine (people development and empowerment) “my reason for existing”. It will be something that dominates your thoughts relentlessly, day and night. You think about it so frequently that at a stage “it” takes “you” over begins to fuel your drive to achieve it. It is that thing which if achieved would make you confirm to a reporter interviewing you on your death bed that you have – in your opinion – lived a fulfilled life, and have no regrets about some other thing(s) you could have given a try, or done better!
Ask yourself what it is that you would gladly do for 24 hours a day, seven days a week etc even if you did not get paid to do it. What is it that gets you excited in the pit of your stomach every time you think about it? Whatever you come up with – if you’re honest with yourself – is most likely to be your magnificent obsession. You might have to think long & hard about this. It could take some people one day to discover theirs, and others a year. Some will even find that they’ve always known – so the discovery could be more or less instant!
Set a goal that reflects your life ambition (You have to THINK long & hard about this!). And make sure it is a “STRETCH” goal i.e. one that’s challenging but achievable. Your goal must be aligned to your organisation’s to avert possible conflict with your responsibilities at your workplace when you begin implementing your plan. It becomes a bit more difficult working towards implementing a plan when there is little at your workplace that has anything to do with the plan and/or its achievement. Someone said you must always “hit the ground running” in the morning when you wake up. I believe one needs to get to the point where if you waste one hour of your time, you actually feel as bad as (if not worse than!) if you had lost a significant amount of money. When you get to that point, you are not likely to joke with the time you have set aside to achieve your goals/objectives.
THE SECOND (2nd) WAY – TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
Recognise (even “Beware of”!) the power of your relationships. Who is the “friend” you spend your quality time with? What tangible/positive benefits accrue to you from the relationship? You must be honest with yourself. If you find that you have friends who often leave you feeling that you have “lost a significant amount of money” (remember the FIRST way?) by spending your quality time with them, then you need to review your relationships with such persons.
In certain cases, you might need to gently/tactfully “break” some relationships. To be a friend to (or favourite of) everyone, YOU WOULD HAVE TO BE A “HYPOCRITE”. Everyone cannot like you – the sooner you accept that fact in your mind the better prepared you will be to deal with the issue of controlling the relationships you keep. If you find that a friend/colleague is not prepared to respect your need to focus and work towards achieving your magnificent obsession, then you need to review your relationship with that person.
Your friendships/associations have an immensely powerful influence on your mental attitude, which in turn determines how effectively you can work towards achieving any set goals or objectives. I am personally quite deliberate in the way I cultivate relationships with others. I also believe anyone who wants to set and achieve personal or workplace targets needs to be that way to ensure he/she achieves perpetual success.
Be prepared to be lonely. Believe in yourself. Don’t let others impose their limitations on you. You need to EMANCIPATE YOUR THINKING(TM). By this I mean you should NEVER let others impose their opinions or limitations on you (see 2.2a below). Many people are afraid of expressing divergent opinions from others, because they do not want to be criticised for thinking differently from everyone else. Many people are afraid to stand out from the crowd.
“You don’t need anyone’s permission to succeed” – Dan Kennedy.
THE THIRD (3rd) WAY – BECOME AN ANT!
FOCUS, DETERMINATION AND PERSEVERANCE are three (3) key qualities considered essential for success in any area of endeavour. A person with focus knows what he wants, and has his mind set on getting it. One who is determined will not be put off by discouragements or temporary setbacks. The person who can persevere will not give up trying until he/she has achieved a set objective.
Perseverance – according to great achievers like Thomas Edison is the most crucial. Edison actually called it: “stick-to-it-iveness”. Considering that he chose to continue his work despite many thousand failures, one can appreciate how he can be so SURE about this.
If you have ever tried to stop an ant without killing it, you will know that the ant exhibits these qualities quite well in the way it responds to obstacles in its path (I actually got this “ant’ analogy from a one-chapter exclusive book bonus I read in Sunny Obazu-Ojeagbase’s Success Digest magazine about 3 years ago). No matter what you do (except you kill it), you cannot stop an ant from TRYING again and again to get around, go over or under whatever obstacle you put in it’s path. Put the ant in a sealed jar and it will keep moving everywhere, searching for a way out, till it eventually drops dead. Ants provide a perfect example of focus, determination and perseverance at work.
Just imagine if you as a human being were to adopt the “ant” ATTITUDE to challenges and setbacks/ disappointments that you encounter in trying to achieve your goals. You would become virtually unstoppable!
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence; Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful individuals with talent. Genius will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent” – Ray Kroc (Founder of McDonalds)
THE FOURTH (4th) WAY – LEARN PATIENCE & LEARN FROM EXPERIENCES
“Patience is a virtue that carries a lot of WAIT”. The above “definition” of patience was given in a bible study guidebook I read back when I was in the university. Often times people do not want to wait long before they begin seeing the results for effort they put into doing anything. In Nigeria, this problem is particularly deep-rooted and widespread in the psyche of our people.
It is important that you avoid falling into the trap of wanting to “accelerate” the process of achieving your set objectives by adopting “unhealthy” habits/methods that require you to compromise your integrity. That does not mean you should not set challenging “target dates/times” in which you wish to achieve your goals! All I’m saying is that you ensure that you do not compromise your integrity by cutting corners in trying to do so. (Learning to type – how long should it take?)
It is imperative that you become a conscious learner from your (and OTHER people’s) experiences. This means you will consciously and deliberately go out of your way to acquire relevant/useful knowledge or skills from every experience you (or others you have the opportunity to observe) are exposed to, and then apply same towards achieving your set goals.
“The prudent manager (employee) should periodically and systematically evaluate his position within an organisation. He should also study the development of his own knowledge and ensure that is it updated not only to keep abreast of the “state of the art” in his chosen field of activity, but also to prepare him for next year’s challenge” – British Institute of Management Report (1972)
Be less concerned about how many “years of service” you’ve given, and more about how much you’ve improved over that period. – T.K Solagbade
THE FIFTH (5th) WAY – SEEK NEW/DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES
Actively seek opportunities to learn something new. Never be afraid of the unfamiliar. The trouble is that oftentimes people fail to realise they need to get to know other areas of work/life outside those they are already familiar with (i.e. their “comfort zones”). Ironically, doing this is often to their advantage, since they better understand how others do their work, the problems they face etc.
Don’t make the mistake of NOT wanting to get picked for “difficult” jobs. Some people think they are being smart when they deliberately “dodge”(or reject) being asked to champion projects considered high profile and/or risky (in the sense that such project’s success/failure is crucial to the company’s future). This is a big mistake. The assumption that handling a project that eventually “fails” will lead to your looking “bad” could not be more wrong.
Many times those giving you the assignment have considered your background and experience, and are well aware of your limitations. Sometimes they send employees on major/”risky” project assignments for developmental reasons. Successful execution in such a case will not usually be the focus. Instead, it would be the evidence of learning that the employee takes away from such an experience.
Every time you get to handle a new project, champion a new initiative or do something really new/different, it is an invaluable opportunity to widen your knowledge and area of expertise. It is also a perfect opportunity to show what you can do – while virtually everyone is watching (since you will be in the spotlight – something that might not happen often). As a result, you will have more depth and become able to interact more widely than if you never had to do such a job.
Be grateful when things go wrong. It is often another opportunity to learn (Re: Sept. 11 crisis). Admit it when you’re wrong (but don’t say you’re sorry too soon?? – see FULL version).
THE SIXTH (6th) WAY – WIN-OVER “DIFFICULT COLLEAGUES/BOSSES
One fact of life: everyone cannot like you. Even Nelson Mandela who enjoys a lot of goodwill across the world today has some people who do not like him or cannot get along with him! That is the way the world is. For anyone to think otherwise would amount to him/her being unpardonably naive! I sometimes refer to the 6th way as “Doing something you dislike!” – because I believe that in going through life, we will periodically have to relate with those people we do not like or get along with. How we handle that situation when it does occur, is a crucial determinant of our success (or otherwise) in any area of endeavour we might choose.
To work successfully with someone you do not like/who does not like you. For the time you have to work with this person, PUT ASIDE (I did NOT say GIVE UP) your biases – be they religious or otherwise – and interact with him/her based on the issues arising from the work you have to do together. Give your UNRESERVED, ACTIVE and POSITIVE cooperation towards getting the job done. Once the project has been successfully completed, you can then go back, and “pick up” your biases and reservations about him/ her again!
This way, you would have shown that you are CAPABLE of working SUCCESSFULLY with ANYONE, in ANY team, and by so doing live up to YOUR commitments as an employee to give your service to the level/quality that justifies the salary you get paid. Anything less would be unacceptable, and could actually jeopardise your career prospects in the company. Ultimately, you would do well to find a way to get along successfully, with such persons. Read Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people” to get practical, workable ideas on this.
“Enemies test our ability to feel compassion, and strengthen us in doing so” – Dalai Lama.
THE SEVENTH (7th) WAY – BECOME A “STUDENT” IN UHK
Wake up – there’s a bigger world out there! Too many people bury themselves in their jobs oblivious to the fact that another world exists outside their “workplace”, or around them. They are insulated from the realities of the real world by their company’s provision of comfortable benefits. You need to get into the UHK (University of Hard Knocks – aka “The Real World”), and learn what it takes to survive out there – while you still have time. You will not remain in paid employment forever, and chances are your retirement benefits may not last the rest of your years on earth.
In the real world you WON’T get paid for work you do not do! The real world is where you don’t get paid UNTIL you given 100%(or more) of the product or service you promised. Many people in paid employment today continue to demand to be paid more for doing less work! Think about it. Some people go through a whole week (or month/year) without doing anything more than their jobs’ basically demand (sometimes they don’t even do up to that!), secure in the knowledge that come rain or sun, their salaries would be paid. That’s why Robert Kiyosaki says in one of his books that salary earners do not earn money – instead they actually receive “handouts”.
The real world demands that you prove yourself worthy of every reward you get. You must sow before you reap. Only in paid employment is this law disregarded. And that’s why when many people retire from well paying jobs, they are unable to adjust to surviving in the real world where they find that (contrary to what obtains in paid employment), just putting in minimal effort does not result in multiple fold income returns. Start living in the real world today. Get your spouse and/or kids to do the same. Begin to manage your spending more consciously for instance. Many in paid employment – if asked – would be unable to account for money they spent 24 hours earlier. This is because they often spend with the “assurance” of another inflow of salary to replace whatever they spend. My advice: Get a notepad where you enter detailed records of every kobo you spend, from today.
THE EIGHTH (8th) WAY – STOP WORRYING AND START LIVING!
Worrying is part of being human. But we have the ability to CONTROL it. Many things can cause a person to worry e.g. financial difficulties. Sometimes we become so worried by certain things that we let them affect our behaviour or performance elsewhere. This is not only avoidable but also often potentially harmful if not quickly checked.
Why let an argument with your spouse at home turn you into a “grouch” or incompetent person at work? Why let that negatively affect your ability to do your job/relate with people you meet at work? Doing that will only worsen your predicament because your problems eventually increase in number. You upset other people and get yourself even more worried!
Jim Rohn’s “Wherever you are, be there” to me, means leave that domestic problem at home, and face your job at work squarely or be yourself wherever else you go soon as you leave home. Do your job/relate with others as well as you would have – or even better than – if you did not have a problem at home. (This requires a lot of mental discipline and effort, but you will find it’s worth it).
When you get back home, you can then continue trying to resolve the home front problem. That way, you will be able to lead a normal life in all other areas of your life and eventually, that could even help you focus better to sort out the problem on the home front – and vice versa. Fail to do this, and your problem will assume multiple dimensions since you will allow it spill over to, and negatively affect other aspects of your life.
Control your thoughts! Some of us tend to worry about what “people” say (or will say) about us. But you can NEVER know who is going to do that to you next – or when (except you’re psychic!). So, why not keep doing what you do as well as you can and steer them away from the negatives that will cause you to worry. Sooner or later, you’ll be vindicated through your work/actions.
THE NINTH (9th) WAY – CLONE YOURSELF(TM)
Become a coach/people developer. Share what you know with those who lack such knowledge. That will actually make you BIGGER (not smaller) in the eyes of others. To experience rapid career advancement, you must make out time to coach and develop others. That way you increase the chances of moving on/up when the opportunity comes. I like to ask people the following questions: “How can you get promoted from your current job if no one else has the competence to do it?”. And how will anyone else learn how to do that job quickly enough, if YOU don’t make the effort to train/coach those around you to the required competence level?”
You are in the best position to know what is needed to do YOUR job as well as you do it. That means you will be best placed to find/develop others – subordinates, colleagues etc to do it while you’re away on leave, secondment – or when you get promoted!
Unfortunately, many people fail to realize this. In our country, people generally seem to believe that sharing what they know actually amounts to giving up the “edge” they have over others. You must realise that sharing with another person even to the extent that he/she becomes better than you, would actually be evidence of YOUR success in another dimension – for which YOU SHOULD feel proud! You cannot be the champion all the time. Sometimes you have to be the champion’s coach – which is even better!
While trying to help others grow, you might encounter some relatively “slow learners”. Be patient. Avoid giving up on people. NEVER conclude that a person does not have what it takes to do something. People should be given as many opportunities as possible to improve – so long as THEY are still willing. We should play our role by offering support, advice, encouragement etc all through the process. Those you help up the ladder today will turn round to pull you up to success in future!
THE TENTH (10th) WAY – BE HUNGRY AND STAY HUNGRY(TM)
Make sure your cup is NEVER full! One can NEVER stop learning. For as long as a person remains alive, he/she will find that there’s always something new to learn. Some people believe that the need for them to “learn” ended when they graduated from the university. What a pity! Anyone who thinks like that is destined to remain an underachiever all through his/her life!! Comparing yourself to those around you who are not up to your level does not prove that you have NOT underachieved. Don’t fool yourself. You are an underachiever if you do not maximize your fullest potential, by perpetually striving to improve/become better in every facet of your life!
If things get tough, you can retreat, not to surrender, but to refocus before trying again. Maybe a particular method you employ fails. You then follow the rules by being an Ant(TM): so you keep going right back, doing exactly what you did before each time, making adjustments. Unfortunately, you still might not succeed. At that point, it MIGHT NOT BE A BAD IDEA to take a step back and ANALYSE your situation to be sure that your adopted method is the most appropriate/suitable.
Finally, the journey to success is never-ending. YOUR journey to success should not end. No matter how successful you become, there WILL always be something new to learn/do better. You therefore need to stay focused on becoming better than you are now or today. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating your successes – just don’t begin to think you’ve done all there is to be done.
Remember ALWAYS, that someone, somewhere, will have done (or can do!) more than you have. More importantly, remember that you are on a “never-ending journey of learning, discipline, work and the pursuit of even higher knowledge and standards. “You must ALWAYS hit the ground running when you wake up in the morning – like the “Antelope” and “Lion” in Africa. So, Be Hungry and Stay Hungry(TM)!
Success is a journey, not a destination” – Arthur Ashe