You’re working hard and feel like you’re doing everything right — but you still find that your career simply doesn’t have the upward trajectory that you’d like it to have. This could mean anything from moving to the next level at your current organization, finding a better opportunity at a different company or even increasing your responsibility in your current role. Leaders often find themselves wondering why they haven’t made the strides in their career that they’d like and may look externally for the answer such as bosses who don’t believe in them, teams that aren’t performing as expected . . . even business goals that are unrealistic – instead of looking internally for the answers.
Yes, the place to look first is at ourselves as leaders because how we lead and show up every day has the biggest impact on our careers… Regardless of your industry or starting point, you can leverage these 5 skills to elevate your career and make your projects move forward. Some are hard skills and some are on the softer side, but all will help you accelerate reaching your career goals.
1. Enhance Emotional Intelligence
Nearly every leader today is aware that emotional intelligence (EQ) is a critically important tool in a leader’s arsenal. However, are you taking full advantage of the benefits that EQ can offer? Technical expertise used to be enough to catapult a career through the ranks, but today’s business models and problems are increasingly complex — far too complex for a single individual to manage at a granular level.
Before you think that we’re getting too touchy-feely with emotions, EQ is more than simply being nice to people and listening. The core of emotional intelligence lies in active listening to not just spoken language, but unspoken language and currents as well. Trusting in your staff and colleagues to effectively do their jobs. Staying within your swimlanes during projects. Learning how not to fly off the handle when something goes horribly wrong, and, instead, looking for resolutions that lead the organization forward.
Emotional intelligence — above all else — is about building relationships that you can rely on when the going gets tough. Projects that aren’t delivering the expected results, timelines that are unreasonable, budget cuts that you can’t control: these are all things that test of how we handle ourselves and ultimately our teams under pressure. With a solid understanding of our own personality style and that of those around us, we are able to leverage learned skills to make decisions that will benefit your organization and your career.
For many leaders, it can be difficult to self-diagnose where we’re having a bit of a miss in terms of EQ. Active coaching provides you with a sounding board for your interactions, helping you see from multiple points of view before making a move forward. The key benefit over time is that you’re able to navigate a course through the treacherous political waters that will lead you to success.
2. Become a Lifelong Learner
There are plenty of arguments for lifelong learning on the technology front, but don’t feel limited to this type of education. Lifelong learning is the ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. You might be surprised to find that all types of learning are good for your brain, creating an adaptable structure that allows you the flexibility to master new skills and techniques.
This is technically called “neuroplasticity” or brain plasticity and refers to the physical changes that occur in your brain when you make new connections: also known as learning. When you learn something new, neurons form new connections and the internal structure of the existing synapses of your brain changes. This fascinating development means that your memory retrieval and ability to make connections mentally can continually expand even as we age.
3. Improve Time Management Skills
The one resource you simply cannot manufacture more of is time — and it’s the most valuable resource of all. When you focus your efforts on improving your time management skills, you’re essentially enhancing all of your other skillsets at the same time. We only have so much time in the day to make an impact and be productive, so maximizing the use of time can be a competitive advantage for your career. Yet, accurate scheduling and structured time management are some of the hardest skills to learn for some people, but they can be learned! Not only will exceptional time management skills allow you to get more done, but they will also help protect you from the burnout associated with many high-performance individuals.
Project managers will tell you that time can very easily slip away, and I’m sure that you’ve said “I don’t know where the day went” on more than one occasion… Unless you’re actively saying “No” to some projects, there’s a good likelihood that you’re not as productive as you could be. Not every project needs your direct input, and not every piece of input that you can provide is going to make a difference in the future of the project. One of the most difficult things to learn is how to create space for strategy and tasks that will truly move your organization (and your career!) forward. Be diligent: if you’re not doing the most important work you can possibly be doing to reach your business goals, reconsider how you’re spending your time.
4. Distill and Quantify Results
Think about it: would you rather receive a hefty file with loads of details from the folks on your team or an executive summary that tells you everything you need to know in less than a page of text? While it’s great to know all the work that’s gone into a particular project, it’s often the executive summary that’s the most important way to move a project forward.
When you apply this rigor to your projects as well as coach your team on creating tightly-defined and quantifiable results, it helps everyone to be more effective and move more quickly on projects. This doesn’t work for everything, but the majority of projects can be distilled into a single page (or so) of high-level information at a very strategic level. This forces you and your team to synthesize the details and deeply understand them in order to form conclusions and make a structured recommendation that has a clear benefits focus.
5. Create Opportunities
Few people who truly define themselves as leaders are willing to wait around to be gain their business goals — they’re much more proactive at looking for ways to seize the day and make something happen. This should be true of every aspect of your career and ongoing projects. Continually look for ways to improve your time management, communication, empathy and analytical skills.
This could mean everything from volunteering for a big new project to offering to lead an upcoming training on a topic you’ll need to learn more about. You can never assume that others are spending time putting you on the path to success. You have to know what you want, be able to articulate the value to the organization and create an opportunity for yourself.
- Grow your emotional intelligence to improve your ability to navigate through change.
- Become a lifelong learner (take a course, work with a coach).
- Improve your time management skills and learn to say “No”.
- Learn to distill and quantify results each time you or your team make recommendations.
- Create your own opportunities: reach for more responsibilities and articulate your preferred future state.
What are some of the ways you’ve either gained success yourself or seen others power through? From learning a new skill to exercising your emotional intelligence, a concentrated focus on these five areas will help improve your chances to elevate your career and reach your business goals. Share your thoughts below or drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I also offer complimentary 30-minute consultations to see if we would be a good coaching fit. Give me a call at 206-393-2392 today or fill out my quick online form to get started!