Creative networking, an outstanding resume and smart personal branding might get you in the door. Performing consistently high-quality work and contributing to your organization’s strategic goals will help you move up the ladder.
But building a fulfilling and sustainable career is just as much—and perhaps more so— about the life skills you bring to everything that you do. Consider these seven life skills to focus on to increase your effectiveness, enjoyment and impact at work.
Creating a personal and professional strategic plan for yourself eliminates a lot of decision drama because it’s grounded in who you are and what is most important to you. It also gives you clear and coherent direction for action and criteria for evaluating opportunities. And yet, “What do you really, really want?” is one of the toughest questions I ask as a coach. It stops many people cold. It elicits a laundry list of unrelated “goals” from others. Try asking this of yourself every day and watch what happens.
Trusting yourself is a lifelong practice, but it is one that is worth actively working on. This can look like:
Speaking up in an impactful way is a powerful skill and you may have to move out of your comfort zone to practice it well. That doesn’t mean having all the answers or talking just to be visible. It’s about telling the truth to yourself and sharing your ideas with others.
For example, one client of mine (we’ll call her Sarah), was highly respected and seen as an emerging leader in her organization. And yet, she was continually silent in meetings with senior staff. More important, she was silent to herself about what she really wanted to contribute and create. Telling the truth and speaking up to herself gave her the confidence and the motivation to speak up and share her ideas at work, quickly gaining her more responsibility and a promotion.
Your physical and mental well-being are the biggest assets that you have and yet, we’re always outsourcing them. I’ve talked to a number of senior leaders who are earnestly working to build happier, healthier work cultures, but, as a few have pointed out, they can only provide the container and set the example. One CEO who was making a big shift in his company culture has started walking around and asking his people to please leave the office on time.
It’s easy to blame external obstacles for not setting our boundaries, but the truth is that we all need to make those choices for ourselves. Close the door. Put buffers in your schedule. Hold shorter and more effective meetings. Take a walk at lunch. Hit the gym. Monotask. Leave on time. Do what it takes to manage your energy within the container that you’re given.
The smartest person in the room is often not the one holding court at meetings. The strongest leaders are the ones who put their phone down and have a conversation with their team members. One of the best skills you can master is the art of fully listening to your colleagues, managers, customers—well, everyone in your life. When you strive to listen more than you speak, you will learn more, understand more and create stronger relationships and more innovative solutions. Consider memorizing the WAIT (Why Am I Talking?) acronym or sticking it to your laptop screen.
Most people think about taking responsibility as owning when they screw up. That’s just one small piece. Take full responsibility for what you want, for what you are choosing, what your actions are creating and for the conversations that you are putting energy into. Take responsibility on work assignments that interest you. When Sarah, the client above, took responsibility for her professional goals and her personal priorities, she was able to negotiate a promotion that delivered the more challenging work she craved without a more challenging schedule for her family.
Curiosity is one of the easiest ways to engage new thinking and create meaning or innovation at work. Assume little and ask lots of questions: How does this process need to work? What do my customers truly want? What if we tried this instead? What are the trends we should be paying attention to?
It’s also a great relationship-builder: What is the other team trying to accomplish when they are seemingly putting roadblocks in our way? What do you think about this solution? Consider, too, blurring the lines of personal and professional, as a way to bring new perspectives into your work. Personal pursuits or interests that stretch you and engage your curiosity and creativity make you a more well-rounded person— and that is an invaluable asset in an increasingly multi-disciplinary world.
Sally Anne Carroll is a life / career coach for professionals and entrepreneurs who want to re-tool their work, define success on their own terms and design healthy, balanced lifestyles that match their strengths and priorities. She’s a freedom-focused advocate for helping clients reimagine, redefine and reinvent the status quo to achieve their personal vision of success and fulfillment. Sally splits her time between Portland, Oregon, and Christchurch, New Zealand.