By now you’ve probably gathered that I’m not a big fan of The Myth of Hard Work or the Cost of Perfectionism. In fact I suggest that if you are reliant on one or both of these strategies as your fallback tactics for career success then you’ll probably find you are well behind the eight ball compared to others just like you.
In a nutshell, hard work keeps you focused on buckling down and pushing through mountains of work, possibly wearing yourself out in the process, but also undermining your own ability to create innovative new solutions, find shortcuts, or maybe even question if the work has to be done in the first place.
And perfectionism as a strategy also wears you out and keeps you focused on the detail, not the big picture. It keeps you over delivering and playing small rather than “having a crack at it” and finding quick wins, feeling the exhilaration of “flying by the seat of your pants” and learning new things fast, or embracing failure and mistakes as an incredible learning tool.
So what else could you put in place that might replace (or compliment) working hard and perfectionism? What’s the #1 strategy you can put in place that will keep you stretching, aiming high and feeling supported all at once? Easy - its strategic networking and in this instance I call it an Ambition Network.
Networking is not a new thing but men and women do tend to network differently. Hazel Walker is a speaker and author on the topic of networking, Business Networking and Sex, not what you think. The book is humorous but it does help you understand that there are some very real gender difference. There is real impact of having conversations with friends, peers and those more senior about career, opportunity, strategy and ambition.
I conduct many of my mentoring sessions in foyers of big hotels. My observations of the different conversations that men and women have are pretty eye opening and I wonder if the different ways we network is one of those critical issues. Maybe instead of paying lip service to that saying "ambition is not a dirty word", maybe we should actually start believing it and having open and strategic conversations about our BHAGs and more importantly how we might get there.
My recommendation is an Ambition Network to the Power of Three - three friends, three colleagues, three industry movers and shakers. This is not scientific, but a rule of thumb. And if a rule of thumb makes you more likely to do something about it then - it's effective.
Three ambitious friends
· These friends are as supportive of each other as you want your friendship circle to be, but also happy to give you honest feedback, call you on your sh*t and tell you that you’ve whined about “that bad boss” long enough and that it’s time to move out, or move up.
· Remember, ambition is not a dirty word. These friends (male or female) are ambitious and talk about their ambitions with you without fear of being judged “greedy”, “bossy” or “getting too big for their boots” and vice versa. If you want to create an app one day - talk about it. If you want to become the CEO of a mining company, lets talk about it and what steps you might need to take. Make sure these friends are positive people rather than "negative Nellies". Glass half full is a far better perspective when encouraging each other to aim high.
· When was the last time you sat down with a bunch of girlfriends and talked about how you would make our first million? Maybe it’s time. With ANZ telling us that women earn approx. $700K less than men over the course of a career, maybe we should talk about money, negotiation tactics and strategies that work.
Three peers, colleagues or managers – possibly in your own organisation although not necessarily, and either male or female.
- Once again the informal arrangement you might have with these peers and colleagues is that BHAGs are definitely encouraged.
- Tips on how to navigate uncharted waters, introductions to movers or shakers in extended networks, even supporting each other to go for the same promotion – because it’s not a competition, but an opportunity to step up and work on your technique for landing a promotion in a safe environment, and may the best woman win. After all, the more “no’s” you get the closer you are to getting the “yes” so get cracking on a bunch of stretch opportunities with the challenge and support of your peer network.
- These people will keep their ear to the ground for opportunities for each other, champion each other in meetings, put each other forward should the opportunity arise and to help mitigate the negative judgements about women singing their own praises, will sing your praises (and you theirs) should the situation warrant. Trust is key so choose well.
Three senior industry people – possibly outside of your current company, male or female.
- Yes it’s wise to be connected outside of your immediate organisation to the movers, shakers and thinkers of industry.
- People who you admire, mentors in other organisations who you might meet at your association conference or industry networking events.
- People who have been there, done that, and are looking for opportunities to give back to younger generations or those who have yet to get those serious career achievements under their belt.
- You might call this group your coaches, mentors or sponsors or you might not. The terminology doesn’t really matter.
- What does matter is that you don’t cut yourself off from the outside world in your attempts to do good work within your own organisation. Stay connected, reach out and reach up. Make sure that others outside of the organisation also know about the good work you do. This will be cash in your credibility bank gaining interest at some stage.
So do you need to formalise these arrangements?
If you mean business, then yes. That will keep you accountable. But you don’t have to. What about:
- Monthly catch ups for your immediate group of friends.
- Monthly to quarterly catch ups with peers and colleagues.
- And quarterly to six monthly catch ups with more senior industry figures.
- I suggest a “can I buy you a cup of coffee?” approach. A coffee takes just 30 mins, so no-one feels pressure and it doesn’t feel like hard work. Imagine being stuck at lunch for someone with an hour when you have nothing in common and they aren’t really being helpful?
- Dorie Clark is a consultant, former US presidential campaign spokesperson, and the author of Stand Out and Reinventing You. She offers a range of advice on how to get in touch with movers and shakers in industry. Well worth the read. And persistence is key.
- Be grateful. As you know, we’re all busy. Time out of someone’s day to give you career advice with no obvious reward is pretty generous.
- Send thank you notes to acknowledge time spent and advice given. Also, let people know as to your progress and where or how their assistance has helped.
- Always offer to be of assistance in some way. Adam Grant of Give and Take fame educates us that giving contributes to your success pathway anyway.
- If you’ve got extended networks on LinkedIn, be sure to ask if you can offer to introduce them to someone in your networks.
- If your more senior industry person doesn’t really have a great LinkedIn profile, why not offer an exchange? You help them get setup and show them how to get their first 500 connections easily and they give you career advice every few months. Don't limit yourself to LinkedIn. I know quite a few people who would like to dabble in Twitter given the confidence. Go wild.
- And why not write them a testimonial or recommendation on LinkedIn. It’s totally up to them to decide whether or not to display it anyway, so its’ the thought that counts.
The key is to start unpacking your goals, dreams and possibilities and talk about these things openly. Acknowledge that guidance and wisdom are key as are the people you hang out with.
I recently read “Good Enough for the Bastards: Courage, vulnerability and credibility” by Anita Krohn Traaseth. Anita is a highly successful business leader in Norway, the former Managing Director of Hewlett Packard Norway and the current CEO of Innovation Norway. Her story is about "the girl next door" and her journey and exploration of career, business, ambition, leadership, life, balance and ….. sleep. More importantly she acknowledges the critical importance of networks, input from mentors and sponsors and championing by those already on the journey. But if you don't tell people that's what you want, how will they know?
And my advice? Help others to help you. Don't make it hard for people to help you by not following up, delaying on things you were going to send or do, or playing small. Instead make it easy for people to help you, by being brave, being clear about your goals to make a difference, and not selling yourself short.
Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution #LookOutCsuiteHereSheComes #feminineambition
- I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and art of amping smart and savvy.
- I mentor busy professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game.
- I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so
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