Over the last 15 years, I have worked in organizations of all sizes and a number of different environments – government, commercial, start-up and non-profit. While each setting required its own mix of competencies, the following 5 skills all contributed to my success at various points in my career.
Core Competencies – The core competencies I developed early in my career laid the foundation for my path to success and helped me build credibility as a capable, knowledgeable team member.
- Master the basics, especially communication – Show up on time, meet deadlines, proofread your work, and communicate clearly and often – both to your direct reports and your higher ups.
- Develop a broad set of skills in a field before going deep in a specific area – This gives you a broader context for any deeper expertise you may develop over time. It also allows you to be informed enough about a general subject to speak intelligently about more than just your main area of expertise.
- Continue to be intellectually curious and never stop learning – As markets and business models change, you need to continually stay up to date on the latest trends, deals and innovations.
2. Emotional Intelligence – You can be the smartest person in the company but if you can’t connect or empathize with other people, you are not going to get very far.
- Build authentic relationships and connect with others – Genuinely take an interest in others and work to understand their needs, problems and concerns.
- Be self-aware – Know your strengths and weaknesses so you can leverage your unique assets and fill in any gaps through training and/or coaching or hiring others to do the job.
- Flex your style – Every team will operate differently based on the task and personalities involved; this requires you to read the situation and adapt your style based on how your boss/colleagues/stakeholders interact so you can contribute most effectively.
3. Consistency and Reliability – Do what you say you’re going to do, do it well and do it regularly. This one seems obvious but so many people fail to follow through, leaving teams frustrated and scrambling to get things done at the last minute.
- Be known for getting things done effectively and efficiently – Communicate what you are doing, for whom, by when and then do it! It’s that simple.
4. Self-Promotion – No one is going to sell your value proposition better than you. While many people aren’t comfortable touting their accomplishments or abilities, it’s much harder to achieve recognition for them if you don’t.
- Toot your own horn! – Find ways to let people know about your accomplishments and goals. It’s much harder to get that next opportunity if no one knows you want it and are qualified.
- Network and get out of your comfort zone – In order to promote your strengths and accomplishments, you need to meet new people and network. Push yourself to do it even if it scares you; over time and with practice, it will become more natural.
- Be confident – If you don't believe in yourself, who else will? We all have doubts and insecurities but don’t lead with these, and when all else fails, fake it ‘til you make it!
- Market your strengths and accomplishments and become known for something – It’s not enough to just be good at what you do – people need to know you for that. Find ways to share your expertise by taking on a new opportunity with a different group, playing a more prominent role at a meeting, or offering to train others in your area of expertise.
- Stay humble – There’s a fine line between promoting yourself and being obnoxious and arrogant. Always maintain humility, give your team credit when appropriate and be nice.
5. Mentorship – Without mentors, I doubt I would have learned many of the skills I mention above. My mentors helped me understand my strengths and weakness, encouraged me to promote myself, helped me course correct when I went down the wrong path, and gave me greater self-awareness and confidence.
- Seek mentors – Mentors can be formal or informal and may work with you for your whole career or just a short period of time. If you are having trouble finding a mentor, ask around for recommendations.
- Mentor others – Aside from the importance of paying it forward and sharing your expertise to help develop others, you can learn a tremendous amount from your mentees. One of my first mentees has become a close friend who has also helped me out professionally on more than one occasion.
I like to think of these five skills as progressive steps as we move forward in our career. First, you build a foundation by developing basic competencies and subject matter expertise, as well as the emotional intelligence to work well with others. As you continue to perform consistently and reliably, you may start to become known for your ability to produce value. You can raise your profile further by promoting your accomplishments and expertise. In parallel, you can find mentors to learn from and push you to do better and also inspire and teach others by mentoring them too. The combination of these skills will help you hone your unique value proposition over time and establish, differentiate and elevate your brand.