By Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC
I cannot take credit for this list or title. Unfortunately, I don’t know who to credit. I have seen this posted on LinkedIn time and time again as a picture of a whiteboard with these 10 items listed. I really love this list and thought it might be helpful to go into each item in a little more detail.
So yes, it is true, that this list does not require talent, but it does require effort and, in some cases, learning new skills. The great thing about a new skill is that it can be learned. I feel extremely confident that anyone who is interested in leveraging these important qualities can definitely do so.
So, let’s discuss some strategies on how you can implement these into your personal toolbox and into your personal brand, that is, how others see you both personally and professionally. In the words of Aristotle, “We are what we do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” Let’s explore these worthwhile new habits together.
1. Being on Time
“Arriving late is a way of saying that your own time is more valuable than the time of the person who waited for you.” – Karen Joy Fowler
In corporate American culture, being on time is essential. Being on time is really being 10 minutes early. If you are called in for an interview, make sure you are 10 minutes early; don’t slide in the door right on the dot. You will be perceived as late.
Once you have the job, find out the company culture and your boss’s expectations. Technical companies seem to have more flexible schedules. As long as you get the work done, you can show up when you want and leave when you want. I would say that companies with this level of flexibility are in the minority right now. For the most part, it is safe to say that you should be on time. Depending on the work you do, you may be able to arrive right on the button or, if you are taking someone’s place, you probably want to arrive a minimum of 5 minutes early, depending on the responsibilities that need to be handed over.
If you are new to your job, make sure you ask your direct supervisor about being on time and what to do if you happen to be late. Is there a 15-minute grace period where you don’t have to alert your supervisor or the front desk that you will be late? Is there a limited number of late days you can take? If you are running late, how does your supervisor want you to communicate this? Text? Email? Phone call? Make sure you understand the procedures.
How can you make sure you are usually on time? One, take an inventory of how long you need to get ready in the morning. Do you usually work out? Shower? Pack your lunch? Try running through your schedule on a day that you don’t have to be on time, a weekend for example, and note how long each task takes you. This will give you a good idea of how much time you need in the morning. How about your drive? Parking? Walking from the parking lot to the building? Do you ** “need”** to grab a coffee before you get to work? (**I know that “need” is a strong word but when it comes to coffee, I am right there with you.) How long does that take?
Now you have a good idea of how much time you need to get ready, get to work, and be seated in your designated place. Aim to leave at least 20 minutes before you actually need to leave just to give yourself some wiggle room.
Being on time is a skill that will typically serve you very well as you move forward in your career and personal life if you live in the United States. I am adding that clarification because different cultures have different concepts of time. If you are working for an international company, the concept of time may be different than “typical” corporate American culture. Again, speak with your supervisor, so you understand the expectations of your company.
2. Work Ethic
“Don’t be upset with the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do.” -Unknown
Taking credit for others’ ideas, not taking responsibility for your mistakes, and inappropriate delegating — are all ways to alienate people in the office and your personal life. You may think that you are fooling some people, and you probably are, at least for a little while, but the façade will not last. The truth really does come out. You might think you are getting away with it because no one confronts you, or maybe you are confronted but come up with a slick story that seems to cover your tracks. Again, it might work once or twice, maybe even more but people are observant. There are some people who are “on” to you long before you will realize it. It might not be your boss, you may have him/her fooled, but if your colleagues see this behavior consistently, you will eventually be edged out of the group. People won’t want to work with you because they know you will take credit and not do the work.
If you find that you are avoiding work, do some self-reflection.
- Do you not like the work?
- Does the work seem pointless or meaningless to you?
- Do you feel drained, when you think about the work you are required to do?
- Is it boring? Tedious?
- Do you feel ill-prepared or overwhelmed by the quantity of work?
- Are you missing essential resources needed in order to do your job successfully?
- Do you need more education? More training?
If it is the last, have an honest conversation with your direct supervisor. Research some places that offer relevant continuing education. Most supervisors want you to succeed. It’s not easy to admit that you don’t know how to do something. It is very vulnerable, but you will see that addressing this issue also will cover some of the other items on this list, such as effort, attitude, passion, being coachable, doing extra, and being prepared. Nice, right?
“Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.” – Winston Churchill
According to research, it takes about 10,000 hours to be an expert in any field. This is clearly the opposite of instant results. It’s the plodding along, even when you feel like giving up. It is the middle of the marathon, and you can’t see the finish line. It is a long, long road.
So, that wasn’t very cheerful, was it? Well, let me make it up to you. Here are some encouraging words for you, as you head down the path. Pick something that you love, that is interesting, and that you believe in. This doesn’t make the road shorter, but it does make it more fun and interesting and will get you through the long stretches where it feels like you are not making any progress or even going backward. As long as you are doing the right thing, you are making progress and moving forward, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Don’t give up.
4. Body Language
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” – Peter Drucker
Do you walk into the office hunched over, walking slowly with a sad look on your face? Do you roll your eyes during meetings? Give a sideways glance to your friend when someone says something you don’t agree with? See what happens when you make an effort to be friendly to others. See what happens when you do smile. Nod your head in agreement during conversations, take notes during meetings and make friendly eye contact. Not only will you benefit from being positive, but people around you will benefit as well. If you are having an issue with someone, as the saying goes, praise in public and address problems in private.
“Exhaustion makes wimps out of all of us.” – James Loehr
Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post tells a story about the crazy number of hours she worked as she was establishing her publication. One day she was so completely exhausted that she fell, literally fell, asleep on her desk and woke up in a pool of her own blood. This didn’t line up with her definition of success. She is now a sleep advocate and would probably appreciate this quote, “Your future depends on your dreams. So go to sleep.” – Masoud Barzani
Sleep is incredibly important. Our cells recharge. Our brain synapsis connect. Getting enough sleep is vital. People vary on the amount of sleep they need, but it typically ranges from 6-10 hours. Eight hours is the most quoted amount we are encouraged to get each night. Find out how much you need. It may vary slightly depending on the day.
So, let’s imagine that you are well-rested. How do you feel during the work day? Do mostly feel energized by the tasks ahead? Do you feel drained by most of the tasks ahead of you? If it is the latter, you may want to think about the tasks that you find interesting and energizing compared to the ones that you find draining. If you are unsure, you may be interested in learning more about taking a career assessment.
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Many of my clients come to me and say that they don’t care what kind of job they get, they just want a job. It’s not true, and they will readily admit that to me after I suggest some jobs that they find distasteful. Knowing yourself is vital.
At different points in your life, you may have different priorities. In your 20’s you may not mind working 90 hours/week to establish yourself. As you move into your 30’s, you may value a more flexible schedule that will allow you to spend time with your children. In your 40’s you may be looking for meaning in your life. As you approach your 50-60’s, you may be thinking about your legacy, that is, what are you leaving behind? How will you be remembered? Regardless of your life stage, a positive attitude will take you further than you can imagine. You may enjoy reading about Donald Super’s stages of career development.
You may be the smartest and most efficient person in the company, but if you are difficult to work with, people start to isolate you. Quite politely in many cases. You will notice that whenever you need help, everyone is too busy. Most people prefer to keep the peace rather than have a direct conversation with someone who may not be open to feedback. Be pleasant. If you can’t find a reason to be pleasant, try to figure out the underlying cause. See a counselor to get some outside perspective, help, and additional skills to cope with the stresses of your life.
Time and time again, I hear from employers that they can coach a new employee on technical skills but not on how to get along with others. We all make mistakes. No one is perfect, but having a willing attitude will make a world of difference. People are watching. Your colleagues may change jobs and, if you are smart, which I know you are, your pleasant disposition will have them keep you in mind when there is an opening at their new place of employment.
We spend so much time at work. No one wants to work with someone who is unhappy and unwilling to do his or her fair share. Be the person others want to work with. You never know how this shift in perspective and attitude will help you and what new paths it will lead you down.
“Working hard for something you don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something you love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek
Don’t you love this quote? I should point out that you can be stressed when you are doing what you love too. However, it is a different kind of stress. It is energizing stress more than anything because you care so much.
Make your life easier. Figure out what you love. What makes your heart sing? What is something you could do all day and not get tired? What do you like reading? What movies are you drawn to? How are these all connected to your skills, interests, motivators, and values?
Life is short. Don’t just clock in and out. You owe it to yourself to figure out what you love.
8. Being Coachable
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard
We are all doing the best that we can, so hearing negative feedback can be, at times, quite painful, especially if it hits one of our triggers, which is an experience that we haven’t healed from our past. It can also hurt if the tone is harsh or if the feedback is given publicly. So, how do you accept feedback graciously?
1. Know that it may not be easy for the person who is giving you the feedback. Many people do not like confrontation, and this is very uncomfortable for many.
2. If you have asked for feedback, do not defend yourself. Listen to the other person. Reframe their feedback to make sure you understand what they are saying. Ask clarifying questions, if you are unclear.
3. Be sure to thank the person who is providing the feedback. Once we are grown-ups, we are not usually in relationships where people give us regular feedback.
Growing up, our moms tell us, “Stand up straight,“ “Don’t talk with your mouth full,” “Elbows off the table.” Now…not so much. Maybe you just don’t get the job, because the employer is afraid that you are uncoachable. I was quite surprised when I was a hiring manager and a potential applicant started to argue with me about the job requirements. I was concerned that the applicant didn’t really understand what the job entailed and I also wondered if this individual would be coachable. This is not to say that you can’t state your opinion or be true to yourself but know the right time and place. Arguing before you get the job is not a great idea. Once you have the job, you will understand the group dynamics and hopefully form a collaborative relationship with your boss and, together, conquer the world.
If you are a career changer or someone with a lot of experience, you bring a lot of value to the workplace and, most likely, a strong opinion of how things should be done. You too will want to vet the work culture to see if they are open to suggestions if this is important to you. If you accept the job, you may need to prepare yourself for different processes. Stay open. Who knows? You may prefer this way more than the way you’ve been doing things.
9. Doing Extra
“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” – Roger Staubach
The best employees go above and beyond the call of duty. A quick note of caution: make sure that the extra work you are doing is not stepping on anyone else’s toes. If you are doing something outside of your job description, be sure to run your idea by your manager and ask for feedback.
Most managers appreciate employees who see problems, have solutions, and actually work to implement the solutions.
10. Being Prepared
“Expect the best, plan for the worst and prepare to be surprised.” – Denis Waitley
I am always surprised at how many people don’t bring a notebook and pen to a meeting. This is the day and age of information overload, yet people don’t write things down. Bring a pen and paper wherever you go. Write things down. There are actually studies that prove that the physical act of writing things down helps you remember.
You may notice that your energy is spent worrying. You may be worried about all the things you have to remember to do. Write them down. You may notice that, even if you don’t consciously check the task off your to-do list, it will get done. Look back at your notes and see how many items were on your list and are now complete.
It may be helpful to have a “catch-all” notebook. Put all your thoughts in the notebook and then redistribute them appropriately. For example, maybe you note your expenses in your catch-all journal and then transfer them to your budget notebook, where they will be easier to find. Review your notes before relevant meetings.
If you are going to a meeting, make a list of the tasks you need to complete before the meeting. Make a list of items you need to bring to the meeting. Review past notes, if relevant, and, of course, make sure you are on time.
“To change your life, change your habits.” – Unknown
I think that you will agree, with some effort, all of these qualities can be learned and implemented into your routine. Why not take one at a time and keep adding on until they all come naturally to you?
You may enjoy my free checklist: