Executive coaches are sometimes called corporate shrinks. And while most of us would argue vehemently that what we do doesn’t approach psychological therapy — and we’re careful to steer clear of it — we will admit that we hear lots of private thoughts. Our entire job is predicated on intimacy, trust, and shared confidences.
We also see, in real time, how career strategies play out. We collect feedback on all sides about how commonly held wisdoms work — or crash and burn.
The reality is that a whole lot of this career stuff is situational. What works for one person, or in one company, doesn’t do so well elsewhere. That said, there are a few, consistent pieces of advice I’ve heard through my work that hold up anywhere, for any level of professional. Follow these, and you’ll fast-track your own career.
1. If you see a fire, run into it.
This was shared recently by a client (told to her by her Dad), and it echoes a sentiment I’ve held for years: in chaos, there is opportunity. Most major career accelerations happen when someone steps into a mess and makes a difference. In the technology sector, people will remark that one year in a start-up is like five years in an established company. There’s ample opportunity to stretch your wings, wear many hats, and create a name for yourself when there’s not a set plan to follow. You can find the same opportunity in any organization, if you seek it.
2. Follow up.
If, as Woody Allen made famous, 80% of life is showing up — then 90% of career success is following up. Our organizations are rife with lack of accountability, whether by intention or incompetence. Be the person who meets deadlines, holds others accountable, and heck, even remembers to say thanks when it’s due. Following through on your commitments is trust-building, and the opposite erodes it quickly and indelibly.
3. Tell the truth.
Truthfulness seems a bit obvious to be on this list. However, companies are rife with damaging lies of omission. In an effort to look good, and not cause waves, we don’t express our truthful opinion. Being brave enough to respectfully state the truth in a politically astute way sets you apart. Most CEOs I know want to hear dissenting opinion; they crave more information not “yes” people. As Joann Lublin discussed in the Wall Street Journal, expressing a difference of opinion actually helps your career.
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