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 face.

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 others.

Risk Taking
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 expose yourself?

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 are.

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.

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