Twelve steps to success in corporate life

BEING GOOD AT your job is one thing, but if you want to stand out as a high-flier it is necessary to take things to the next level by being exceptional in whatever you do.

Long-term success depends on looking beyond the immediate demands of the job and finding ways to add value. This allows you to work more efficiently, co-operate better with others and achieve a broader range of personal and business goals.

You can take great strides in this direction by developing a few key transferable skills. With these abilities there is every chance you will be able to climb the career ladder faster and with a surer step. Here is a summary of what it takes to be a high flier.

Develop a 'can do' spirit

Most things are possible when you embrace the opportunities life brings rather than resist them. In doing this, it helps to know how your thought patterns generally work and to develop the habit of thinking positively in every situation. Of course, there will be difficulties and certain goals may seem unattainable, but such situations bring out the best in us. Try not to focus on problems or possible risks. Recognise that even if things don't always turn out well, you will learn and grow from the experience.

Build co-operative relationships

To achieve anything significant in the corporate world, it is vital to work effectively with other people. If you take the trouble to build strong relationships, colleagues and clients will be more willing to help out when needed. One approach is to think of every interaction as an investment for the future. You should take the time to build rapport and be prepared to accept alternative viewpoints and ideas. You can develop mutual trust by showing interest, listening attentively and adjusting your style of communication to the situation. Don't forget that a little charm can go a long way and that you can usually win people over by using positive words and expressions.

Influence upwards

There is no reason to assume that the manager is always right. If you believe your ideas will lead to better results, find a way to get them noticed. This may first involve shaping the management's perceptions and expectations so that you can get a fair hearing. Bear in mind that anything you suggest should be aligned with the broader goals of the business and, preferably, add value. Understanding your manager's priorities will also make it possible to present ideas in a way that wins immediate support.

Communicate with clarity

To make a real impact, you must convey ideas clearly and be capable of inspiring others to act. Be willing to adapt your style and tone to different types of audiences. Make sure you structure each message carefully. Messages should be easy to understand and supported by a few relevant facts. Finish with a summary outlining the next stage. Whatever the context, a good communicator engages others in a variety of styles by using examples, anecdotes, humour and visual aids. If there is any risk of misunderstanding, ask questions or follow up to ensure that no doubts remain.

Be efficient

High fliers know how best to use their time and maximise the results of their efforts. To do that, you must have clear goals and a definite plan of action to achieve them. This will help you organise things better and focus on what is important. It sometimes helps to use formal time-management tools to arrange your schedule. Equally important, though, is the ability to say 'no' from time to time so that you can stick to your priorities.

Become a team player

In corporate life you will never be a winner unless you help others and learn from them along the way. That means being a real team player and not letting your ego dictate your actions. Being committed to team goals is the key to motivating and inspiring the people around you. With genuine co-operation and shared objectives, it becomes possible to leverage diverse skills and knowledge and, thereby, achieve more.

On time and within budget

As senior managers start to recognise your talent, more projects will come your way. Regard each of these as an opportunity to shine. With any new task or project, make sure you understand the scope and, if necessary, the budget and deadlines. Then, get the right people involved, plan in detail and set milestones. Don't forget to anticipate risks or obstacles. Get the support of key stakeholders by keeping them informed.

Make good decisions every time

Good judgment is essential for success in business. It is the result of experience and confidence and having a structured approach to making decisions and solving problems. To develop such an approach, consider your main aims and set out a range of alternative ways of achieving them. Then consult others to get different perspectives. For major decisions, analyse the costs and benefits of each viable option and run through the likely impact and risks. With practice and experience, you will have greater confidence in your judgment in high-pressure situations and will be able to decide more by intuition.

Remember politics

One-upmanship can make life in the workplace very difficult. Competition is inevitable but you don't have to resort to scheming to get ahead. Instead, focus on developing your influence and authority. Start by building a network of contacts across the organisation. This will help in understanding what others want and is always the first step in building trust, knowing how best to help and winning support.

Believe in yourself

Enterprising people succeed by having the courage to try things that the less self-confident consider are beyond their reach. Insecurities and doubts can be overcome by experimenting, setting intermediate targets and taking one step at a time towards the bigger goal. By doing this, you will soon develop faith in your ability to fulfil every ambition.

Keep things in balance

Most of us understand professional ambition, but when work takes over completely problems inevitably crop up. Everyone needs time for recuperation, holidays and other interests. These provide the energy and motivation to tackle the challenges of each working day. Therefore, draw boundaries and learn to say 'no'. Plan and schedule non-work activities to revitalise yourself. The net effect will be greater efficiency at work and more joy in life.

Take charge of development

Don't wait for the boss to determine your training needs or personal development plan - decide for yourself. Identify role models in the organisation and see how they go about things. Be ready to ask them for advice on the skills and attributes needed to succeed. Then take every opportunity to develop these qualities. Volunteer for projects or committees, get involved in organising events and do not be afraid to make mistakes. Gaining experience in real-life situations is the best way to develop confidence and get marked out for better things.

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