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Can I Give You Some Advice? Print
Whether you are new to the workforce or have been around for a while, these are some things that can help you do a better job, move up in the organization, and keep you out of trouble. They are primarily aimed at new managers. At the worst, the suggestions won't hurt and, hopefully, they will help. Most of these come from my experiences …. not always positive experiences, I have to admit. You can learn from my mistakes or those that I have seen, rather than making them yourself. Most are just common sense, but a few may run a little contrary to common wisdom.

Take the jobs that nobody else wants

This is one of those that might not fall in the area of common wisdom, but is a way to stand out and maybe even become the office "shining star."

Take on the jobs or projects that nobody else wants - those that are difficult or where others have failed. Some people shy away from taking on a project where others have had problems. They don't want to "taint" their record with possible failure. But it's actually a win-win situation. No one expects you to succeed. If you do find a way to achieve success, you have made a name for yourself. If you don't, nobody expected you to anyway. If you make a significant effort, and still don't succeed, the boss will notice your hard work, assuming that he or she is a good boss. A warning, though: Don't take on one of these jobs or projects and just kiss it off. That won't help you at all, and may hurt you.

Be creative, and speak up

When you have ideas, speak up. It is always a good practice to look for ways to make improvements.

Whether it is processes or products, almost anything can be improved. Don't be obnoxious about it, but don't hold back for fear of rejection. Make sure that you have your case built and can present it coherently. Sometimes making a suggestion for change that is rejected is planting a seed that will bear fruit later. Change is difficult and people can be very hesitant. If you are the manager, listen to suggestions. A suggested improvement from one of your people can make you look good, too, if it is put into practice and is successful.

When looking at changes, especially in processes, two of the best questions that can be asked are "why?" and "why not?" Asking why something is done the way it is and why not change it if there is a better alternative, can lead to great savings or improvements. Even if the decision is made not to make the change, it makes people think and can lead to other and maybe even better ideas for improvements.

One of the worst reasons in the world for not changing something is because "we've always done it that way." Keep an open mind. Stability can lead to stagnation. Change may be painful or disruptive, but the results frequently justify the pain.

Learn to write

You don't have to be the world's greatest writer, but learn to put words on paper in a way that is readable and gets the idea across. Also learn to do it in a way that is grammatically correct. The ability to write is a skill that is highly valued. Surprisingly, not that many people can do it, or are just not willing to take the time or make the effort.

The ability to write well, whether it is a proposal, a report, a technical document, a request for resources, or some other document, will get you noticed and put you in demand. Managers at every level are looking for people who can communicate well. While the written word is only one aspect of communication, it is the one that leaves a permanent record that can be seem by many.

Network and communicate

Meet people and talk to them. Get to know the people in your organization.

They can help you to do your job faster and better. They can tell you what has happened in the past, what has worked, and what hasn't. They will tell you about the other people in the organization. Share information with them. Learn from them. Of course, there are some people will not share knowledge because they feel that having that knowledge provides them with a certain power. They hoard information, sharing it only when they think that it will benefit them. Don't be one of those people. It hurts your ability to do your job and the organization's ability to get the mission accomplished.

Networking also means expanding your circle of professional contacts. Get to know those in your field of endeavor and related fields. Learn from them. Trade information. Knowledge is a valuable commodity. If you share it, everyone benefits. When you share knowledge, you usually learn other things in return. What you learn may not help you today, but might in the future.

Reach out a helping hand

Be willing to help others. Don't let helping someone negatively impact your own work, but taking the time to assist others usually has a very positive payback.

Answering questions, providing ideas, editing a document, helping on someone else's project, or even something like helping to move furniture makes others feel in your debt. Then they are more willing to help you when you need it - and you will need help at some point.

A helping hand might also be mentoring someone, giving advice, or welcoming the new person into the organization and helping him or her get settled.

Give credit, don't take it

Learn to give accolades to those around you when they do something good or are helpful to you. This goes for those recognizing the contributions of those under you and your peers.

Be quick to share the credit for a job well done. Trying to hog the credit for an idea or a successful project might get you recognition or help you in the short run, but it certainly won't help over the long term. It will damage your reputation and people won't want to work with you again. Also, when you give credit to others, most people assume that you were a part of the reason for success and are just being humble. Perceived humility is a good thing. Perceived ego for claiming the credit due others is not.

In the same vein, a letter or e-mail of appreciation to the boss of someone who has done something significant or helpful can really win friends and influence people. Even just a private word to their boss is worthwhile. It shows your professionalism and your appreciation for a helping hand or a job well done. It only takes a few minutes, and it will be noticed and remembered. If it is a letter or an e-mail, it is always nice to copy the person to whom you are showing appreciation. It lets them know that you were appreciative and tried to do something nice for them.

The Golden Rule

And I don't mean "he who has the gold makes the rules."

How you act toward those around you can have an impact on your career. It's the treatment of anyone with which you have contact - your peers, people under you and those in positions that can be considered service positions.

People notice how you treat other people. If you are rude, demanding or demeaning, people within earshot or those who might hear about it secondhand can make harsh judgments about you. It probably won't cost you your job, but it can make people wonder whether you should ever be in a position of power or are worthy of help. It is the same when you are nice to people; others notice and judge you accordingly. When you treat people decently, people will want to work with you or for you. Being respectful or nice doesn't mean letting people roll over you. You can be strong, but tactful and polite, even if others aren't.

There can be other, more direct consequences, good or bad, for the way that you treat people. Bad treatment of someone, for example, could easily get back to whomever that person works for. How you treat a person will influence how your needs are handled, or the priority applied to your work or requests. The same goes for everyone with whom you interact. They all have influence somewhere.

Someone you mistreated could even directly sabotage or undermine your work if they are upset enough. You hate to think someone would do that, but …. On the other hand, kindness and politeness can pay great benefits. Then people want to help you. You might be surprised how something as simple as holding an elevator for someone, a cheerful "good morning" or a polite thank you can lead to assistance for you in a time of need. It never hurts to be polite. The words "please" and "thank you" should be a frequent part of your vocabulary with everyone. Being polite is not being obsequious.

Don't burn any bridges

So you are leaving your current job and planning to tell everyone exactly what you think of them.

Bad idea! It is a very small world out there. Unless you won the lottery and are going off to live in splendid isolation, there is too much chance that you may need these people at some time, will see them professionally or socially, or that they know someone in your new job (or the next one). People remember and, innocently or maliciously, may say something that could damage you or your reputation.

Even if you are changing professions and geographic locations, don't burn any bridges. Remember, at most, it is seven degrees of separation between any two people in the US. And if you are staying in the same field or place, it can be a lot less than seven. Why take the chance? Telling off one or a few people may make you feel better temporarily, but isn't worth the potential repercussions. The same goes for other scenarios that involve doing something based on your emotions that might be perceived by others as unprofessional.

This advice can give you a large step up on the road to success in almost any field. I hope that you found it useful.


Copyright 2006 Wayne Turk


Wayne Turk is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and an independent management consultant. He has been a project manager for projects for DoD, other federal agencies, and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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