I presented at Beyond Pink’s Young Women in Business Conference, delivering a talk on how to succeed in the corporate world. It was inspiring to see a crowd of ambitious, go-getting women, excited to take the next step in building their careers. I’ve been playing the corporate game for almost a decade now, here are a few lessons I learned along the way.
1. Show Up for the Position You Want
How often do you see a CEO wear flip flops or LuluLemon pants to the office? Not often. Regardless of your company’s casual attire culture, it’s important to dress up for work. The people who surround you make automatic judgements and assumptions on what your appearance indicates about your ability and professionalism, whether they are conscious of it or not. Looking the part is one half of the equation, and acting the part is the other half. Whether you are a coordinator or a manager, assume the role of the position you want. Reflect this in your efforts, your leadership skills and by taking on projects that are beyond your job duties. Sooner or later, people will take notice.
2. Act Like a Leader
You do not have to be the CEO of a company or manage a large team in order to be a leader. Leadership is an attitude. In every job I’ve had, it has always been very clear who the leaders are. These are the people who have the skill of handling problems and crisises with a sense of calm and control. These are the people who will raise their hand to take on a project when everyone sits back. You never hear these people complain about how overwhelmed or busy they are because they go about their work without the need of getting praise or pity from peers. These are the people who are action oriented and show by example. These are the people who respond with emotional intelligence, not defensive reactions.
Thinking and acting like a leader is a skill that can be developed – and after a while, this attitude engrained until it becomes first nature. Whenever you face a challenging person or problem at work, before you immediately react, take a moment and step back to look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself what a leader would do in such a situation. After taking out the emotion and panic of the moment, then, respond. It may help to visualize a leader that you admire and want to emulate, and picture this person in your head when trying to determine how to deal with the problem.
3. Success is Defined by How You Get Back Up After You Fall
I’ve been laid off twice in my career. The first time, I was loyal to the company even though I had witnessed four rounds of layoffs and staff morale plummet. Despite the CEO assuring me my job was safe, my turn came. I panicked, and felt angry and scared. But soon after, I found a better job that paid me more and was fun and exciting. The second time I got laid off, I was caught off guard. The CEO of the company was, and still is, a good friend of mine. I learned that lay offs are not personal. It’s a business decision, and sometimes, your position can be eliminated due to politics, the economy, and the bottom line. This is part of the corporate game that you sign up for if you decide to work for someone. There’s no point in getting angry or bitter about it. Just go into your job knowing that you are not indispensable. Meaning, be prepared – always have your resume updated, build your skill set and portfolio so that you are employable and marketable to other companies, and if you can, try to negotiate severance or terms of a layoff before you sign your contract.