Contributed Column

The Manager's Corner

Going the distance: long-term professional success

As you began your career, professional expertise was likely your primary focus. Over time, however, technical competence alone can be insufficient to achieve long-term professional success. That said, what non-technical capabilities associate most closely with enduring success? Why do these capabilities matter, and how can you incorporate them into your work-style repertoire?

Some professionals tell me they have greatly enjoyed their work, have no regrets, and have been consistently successful. Asked for detail about how they manage themselves and their work, they mention influencing, communicating, leveraging, and connecting.

Influencing is the ability to lead others outside your control so they make better decisions affecting your work and you. It is a critical leadership competency, and should be distinguished from authority or manipulation. Influencing is subtle, elegant, and ultimately more effective and enduring than authority. You have the opportunity to influence those to whom you report, your peers, and/or the people who report to you. Those who influence others well can tailor their workplace environment so it better sustains them personally and professionally.

We often think of communication as consisting solely of written and oral skills. These, however, are often the least important components of successful communication; they are essential but alone are insufficient. Active listening that goes beyond merely hearing what another says, and the ability to tailor yourself to your audience are more elusive capabilities. Without them, even the most elegant oral or written piece will lack optimum impact.

Leveraging your capabilities, energy, and time is critical in achieving a sustainable work/life balance. By leveraging yourself, you extend your limited personal and professional resources to do more with less. You don’t work harder, but you do work smarter. You can do this through building a high-functioning team and having excellent delegation skills. However, leveraging can also be accomplished by those who do not have a team. People who work alone but collaborate well with colleagues get more done.

Connecting often comes up in the context of business development and profile enhancement. However, connecting (or networking) is about relationship building, using your contacts to connect people and opportunities and developing “social capital” within your community. If you have an excellent professional network you will enjoy your work more because others will support your success, you will give back to your community, and you will be highly engaged.

Assuming that influencing, communicating, leveraging, and networking are key to long-term success, to what extent do you currently have these capabilities and how can you cultivate them?

The first step is conscious awareness. For example, you may have occasionally thought about influence, but how much have you truly focused on its importance? If you acknowledge the importance of influencing, you will notice many opportunities to exercise it. Be honest with yourself when evaluating your ability to influence, communicate, leverage, and connect. Focus your attention on your less developed capabilities and start there.

I suggest setting some specific and concrete goals for yourself, considering the realistic constraints that may impact your ability to achieve these goals. Identify the opportunities that nevertheless exist for you to accomplish your goals and then take some action. Start with goals that will be easy to achieve and then tackle the tougher ones. Stick with what works and jettison the rest.

Most important, keep practicing the new behaviors. Initially, the new approaches may feel uncomfortable, almost like a new, stiff suit of clothing. However, over time, they will become more comfortable and replace those behaviors that were less functional. Fortunately, like learning a new area of technical expertise, anyone can develop these four core capabilities with practice and persistence.

Emily Morrow (www.emilymorrow.com) of Shelburne, provides tailored consulting services to business owners, professional practice firms, executives and HR personnel.

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