Understanding Your Personal Competitive Environment, Part 2
If you're waiting for someone else to help move your career along, then sadly you will be waiting a long time.
NO one is an island. Consequently, we must learn to develop simple systems
that will allow us to expand our ability to connect with others. This
is true both within and outside our organization(s). If done
appropriately, it provides us the best opportunity to achieve the goals
we have set for ourselves. The more we work with others, the greater
our ability to demonstrate flexibility in our relationships--an
essential component in getting along with others, gaining cooperation,
and having our input become more potent in the myriad situations we
A central rule I believe should be followed when it comes to
building alliances is in recourse to the saying "There are very few
problems we can solve alone and very many we can solve together."
Building alliances allows people to become better acquainted with you
and your profession; most important, it is the best way of showing them
what you can achieve. Therefore, it is imperative you get to know
others in your organization and individuals who hold roles similar to
yours in other organizations. It is also beneficial to offer assistance
to others without coming across as a know-it-all. Additionally, nothing
builds your credibility and serves as a positive force to attract
others to you than following through on the commitments you make to
Change or taking risks is not an easy thing for anyone. Yet the
reality is, we cannot get better by doing the same things tomorrow as
we did today. We take risks all the time--whether driving our car in
traffic, crossing a busy street, or choosing to eat at a restaurant we
have never frequented. Risk taking is a part of life. The central
question is, what is an acceptable amount of risk to which you may
Each of us must answer this question in light of our ultimate goals:
If we desire to remain in the same position we are today, then the
level of risk we are willing to accept probably will be very low.
Conversely, to the extent we desire to advance (and the level of
advancement we want is a factor), our level of risk tolerance probably
will be greater. If being safe and secure in our current role is our
objective, then we will always stay even.
Think about this: Staying even when others continue to move ahead is
just like moving backward. If no one wants to move backward in their
profession or personal life, that will require all of us do some things
differently. We need to get comfortable stepping outside our comfort
zone in an attempt to be better tomorrow than we are today. When taking
a risk, remember: It takes courage to grow up and become who you really
The Importance of Visibility
I have always heard it said, it is not good enough to do well;
rather, you have to do well in service to and for others. Being visible
is a requirement in order to advance in your chosen career. However,
the importance of visibility is diminished if your involvement does not
lead to a verifiable record of accomplishment. People respect and want
to be associated with individuals they know can get the job done. When
you combine this with a visible and accessible presence, you are really
optimizing your chances for advancement in terms of the acquisition of
knowledge and promotional opportunities.
When it comes to being visible, we cannot act in a manner that
promotes ourselves above the profession. If the manner in which people
view safety from a global perspective is heightened, then in most cases
that automatically heightens our visibility in the organization.
Also, as you are increasing your visibility, you cannot be afraid to
share the spotlight with others who have made it possible for your
light to shine in the most favorable manner. In a lot of ways, this
last point ties into my points about building alliances. That should
not be surprising. In fact, as you look at building your ability to
understand and respond to your personal competitive environment, one of
the things you should note is that your strategy should be a layered
one, where each step successively builds upon what was laid previously.
Do not get caught up with wondering whether or not someone else is
being more visible than you are. If you are appropriately handling the
tasks for which you are responsible, involving others and not isolating
yourself from the environmental mix, seeking opportunities to attend
training and employee meetings, ultimately you will be fine. When it
comes to looking at others, there will always be people who are better
than you are at making themselves visible.
Conversely, there will always be individuals who are worse than you
at making themselves visible within the organization. Our biggest test
is that we should not try to be better than our peers or
contemporaries. Rather, we should endeavor to be better than ourselves.
Each of us, to assist in our growth process, must have a
curious nature. As a child, I learned that if someone asks you to do
something you reasonably deduce he can do for himself, you must inquire
about that situation. The same is true in the workplace. Accompanying
the notion of having a curious mind is providing detailed feedback to
people for whom you may have a service request.
Say you have a project for which you need assistance--a report that
needs to be typed. The worst thing you can do is simply ask the person
to type the report. Sure, he or she will type and spell-check it, but
because the individual has no idea what connection it has to other
areas, he or she will not look it over to see whether there are
inconsistencies between it and other similar documents you may have had
typed. You should have told the individual to whom you gave the report
that it needed proofreading. Because it will go to a major contractor
of the firm and is a response to a Request for Proposal that, if
successful, could mean a large influx of revenue for your company.
Armed with that knowledge, how much more effort do you think that
person would have put into reviewing and really reading the report?
Be curious. Understand the why behind everything you do and help others to understand, as well. If you do not know, ask!
Being curious and having an inquisitive mind is a way of getting
noticed, being visible, and getting your point across. The key is in
knowing when to be curious and how to do so in a manner that does not
alienate others. This is a real skill, and it is different in each
situation and in each organization. However, the more you use a tool,
the better and more proficient you become.
Career and Personal Development
All of us have, or should have, an idea of the direction in
which we want our professional lives to proceed. To the extent we do,
half of our battles are already fought because we have done at least
some of the preparation that is a prerequisite to everything we do in
life. To the extent that each of us is willing to take the initiative
and mark or set out our goals and aspirations, we are taking the first
essential step in our career and personal development.
Personal initiative is a key area, one that cannot be
underestimated. If any of you believes someone else will be the
custodian of your career development, then you are being foolish. If
you are waiting for someone else to help move your career along, then
sadly you will be waiting for a long time. The reason for this is that
we all have the same amount of time in a day, and no matter how well
you are organized, who among us has the time to watch over and direct
somebody else's career?
All of us should be willing to invest in ourselves regularly because
if we do not, who will? When it comes to professional development, you
should know that you cannot have all your developmental needs addressed
by your organization(s).
Understand that there should be an overlap or balance between your
professional development and your personal development. You can assist
with your career development by engaging in volunteer activities that
provide you an opportunity to expand or acquire new knowledge of areas
in which you want to be involved in your organization(s). You can also
volunteer for assignments within your organization that will allow you
to acquire or further develop your ability to be flexible when dealing
with others. If you really are open to new experiences, you will find
that developmental opportunities are everywhere.
The Role of A Leader
While each of you may have a formal position of authority or
aspire to one in your organization(s), that is significantly different
from being a leader. Positional power refers to a more traditional
conception of management. Additionally, when we speak about management,
it usually has at least something to do with the time an individual has
spent in an organization, and there is a limit to the number of
management positions in any organization.
Leadership does not depend on position or time in grade. There are,
literally, infinite opportunities for each of us to serve as a leader
within our organization(s). Leadership depends on and requires only a
single item: action. To be seen as a leader, an individual must be
willing to take action when action is called for, regardless of the
scale or scope of the need. For that reason, it is critical in our
formal roles of authority that we impress upon all that they must
accept the fact they can and must assume leadership roles and
responsibility when needed--and it is always needed.
If in your formal roles your main way of operating is to step up and
take control of situations, then you are not being a leader. A good
leader recognizes he or she must also be a good follower and looks for
opportunities to allow others to step up. A good leader is willing to
teach and share knowledge with others. You cannot teach what you do not
know, and you cannot follow where you will not go. Leadership is a
habit born out of that which you do repeatedly. It is not an act you
put on when the bright lights are lit because the need for leadership,
although constant, is not readily predictable.
As you pursue your professional endeavors, you'll find you have
control over many more things than things you do not. How you go about
developing your professional pursuits is in your hands. One of my
favorite quotes that I have heard attributed to Henry Ford is, "Whether
you believe you can do a thing or not, you are probably right."
Your ability to understand the global marketplace, as well as your
current and possibly future employers; examining how you view
customers; being visible and curious; taking initiative; and the steps
you take in being a leader are all in your hands. To fully address
these issues, you have to be willing to listen to yourself and others
who have voices that you need to hear.
Do not be afraid to take risks and to seek new ways to build
alliances that will be beneficial not just for you, but also for the
profession you represent. Remember, people identify and want to be
associated with individuals who follow through and honor the
commitments they make. Be flexible, be curious, and enjoy the journey.
This column appeared in the October 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.