4 Ways to Level Up in Your Career

If you’re reading this, you’re ready for the next step of your career. Maybe because you’re a little humdrum on job #1. Maybe because your boss or chosen career path isn’t quite what you’d hoped for. 

Or, maybe you’re in the right spot — you just want to see your career move faster. 

Perfect. Let’s look at how to step on the gas in your professional life. 

1. Make a plan.

My greatest career accelerator was learning how to “look around corners.” This did not involve a telescope, time travel, or magic of any kind. It did involve doing another kind of homework, though.

Before you can make a plan, you need to know the full lay of the land. This is a basic survival skill, both in the outback and in the office. 

To prepare for a natural disaster or emergency, it’s a good idea to study a map of the surroundings of your home within a 1-mile, 10-mile, and 100-mile radius. You should have at least three routes to be able to get to key locations, and you’ll want your first aid supplies ready and water and food stocks prepared. 

Most of us live in areas where the probability of armageddon is hovering at a zero, but being more aware of our environment can make all the difference in an emergency. This kind of preparation can also help us appreciate what we have and how to use it to our best advantage. 

Now apply this kind of strategic preparation to your career. Whether you’re looking for a new job or wanting to grow faster where you are, knowing all the ins and outs of your areas of responsibility and beyond makes you resilient, nimble, and dependable. That’s of real value to an employer.

Simply sit down before your week, your day, or your next meeting and think through:

  1. What’s my goal?
  2. What’s the goal for my boss, colleague, competitor, or customer?
  3. What would success look like?
  4. What are the chances of success?
  5. What are the barriers to success?
  6. What are the solutions to address those barriers?
  7. What do I — or we — need to do to prepare?

I did this on the plane each week when I was flying to visit with clients, thinking through every meeting, spending extra time on what I knew the other side was hoping to accomplish. My clients were so impressed that I started getting unsolicited job offers.

I still ask those same questions when I prepare for a client, a child’s teacher conference, a date with my husband, or a trip to see my college roommates. I do it at night when I check my calendar for tomorrow and think through the day.

When I take a moment to reflect on what a rough week my husband might have had, for example, I approach date night differently. Maybe discussing the most recent insight from Pope Francis wouldn’t be his chosen conversation topic to go with his Manhattan. Maybe I could ask him about his week and let him vent, and save the pope for dessert… or next week. 

Imagine what it would do for your boss or clients — current or future — if you took their concerns seriously.

2. Manage up.

Who is your most important customer? Answering this question is not as straightforward as you might think. 

Reduce it down to this question: Who approves your pay raises? That’s your customer. And the customer is always boss. So if you think your company or CEO’s client is your most important customer, you might suffer endless frustration when your manager isn’t as happy as you are with your results. 

Once you realize your direct supervisor is your most important customer, you’ll spend a lot more time“making a plan that includes his or her interests. You’ll have a much higher likelihood of influencing those interests. You might even start serving the company’s clients better. And you’ll start to see your career grow faster, too. Everyone wins!

Research bears this out: when people have a good working relationship with their boss, they do better work — they are more motivated and support their team by pushing their performance. Conversely, even an ambivalent relationship with your boss tends to hurt job performance.

On a similar note, as you grow in your career, the idea of “boss” becomes increasingly nuanced. You’ll likely have many people who can influence your paycheck and your career path. In this case, you’ll usually have one person who is your primary boss with the greatest impact on paycheck and promotions. But you’ll have other leaders and executives whom you serve in some capacity, as well. How you take care of their needs will have a tremendous impact on your career growth. 

Stepping onto the floor of the corporate ballroom and keeping your indirect bosses (or customers) happy, while also dancing with the one who brought you, will be an important survival skill! 

3. Manage sideways and down.

A friend of mine — let’s call her Kal — saw her career turn around when she realized how important her colleagues and the people who directly reported to her were to her career growth.

Up to that point, Kal had the reputation of being a bit of a jerk. As one colleague described it, while she was busy bowing to all of her customers’ needs (they loved her), Kal was showing her butt to her team. 

Once Kal really bought into the idea that her team and colleagues were there to help serve her clients, too, she started treating her team as a critical component of customer service. When she made her weekly plan, she took as much time figuring out her team’s needs as she did her customer’s needs. 

It didn’t take long for Kal to get promoted, passing most of her peers and superiors in a very short amount of time. 

From the start, she was truly a star performer in the eyes of her customers. But Kal became invaluable when she started investing in those around her. They were the ones who helped magnify and grow her contributions exponentially.

You can’t fake this. Either you see your peers and team as vital to your success and worthy of as much investment as you give your own career, or you don’t. And your career trajectory will show it.

4. Take care of yourself

One last thing: Take care of yourself. Not in a work/life balance kind of way; or in the way your doctor says to drink less scotch and eat more veggies; or in the way your trainer says you need to do your HIIT workout three times a week. 

Rather: what makes you happy? What gets those endorphins flowing regularly in your life? 

If you don’t have that, I promise you at some point your health and your career are going to take a sudden nosedive. I’ve experienced it myself, and I’ve seen it happen to countless colleagues. A regular boost of endorphins goes a long way to interrupting our addiction to stress hormones (like adrenaline and cortisol) and extending our career and life spans.

It doesn’t matter what it is — it could be running or music or hiking or a long conversation with your best friends. It’s likely a combination of a lot of little things that add joy to your day. Start inserting those into your life, and I promise that you’ll have a clearer head, happier heart, and you’ll almost certainly find more success. 

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