Fight or flight. Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. If only every decision was so binary. The same holds true in the workplace, though I’d add a third category: wait and see. I could also break it up into leaders, followers, and situational somewhere-in-the-middlers (trademark pending). Moving forward, moving backward, or paralyzed. (I could go on, but you get the idea.)
As an exercise, look around the room at your next meeting and try to categorize everyone into three groups: Leaders, Followers, and Waiters. Then look at each person’s career (what you know of it) to see if there’s any correlation between those groups and upward mobility. I bet there is.
Successful people, no matter how you define success, don’t wait for their turn. They don’t accept that someone else is designing their career path–they take the reins themselves. Anyone who waits to hear about promotions, waits to get the training they need, and waits until yearly performance reviews to get some actionable feedback will be waiting their entire professional life.
Ask any high-level leader and she’ll tell you she’d rather have someone who guesses wrong half the time but keeps on trying than someone who waits and waits and waits and never goes for it. It’s not a failure if you learn from it, right? And if you never try, you’ll never get anywhere.
This is not only true when you have a job, but also when you’re looking. During the job interview, it’s crystal clear who is a leader and who is a follower by how interactive they are and the questions they ask. The best candidates don’t sit back in their chair waiting for questions, only to provide the minimum response to answer the question. They eat the interview. They own it. They ask questions just as often as they answer them. They don’t feel inferior to the recruiter, they feel equal. The best candidate is interviewing the recruiter as well. They need to learn about their prospective employer just as much as their prospective employer needs to learn about them. Maybe more. But all to often, I interview people who act subservient, like they don’t deserve to be in the chair across from me. They only speak when spoken to, like members of Her Majesty’s Royal Court. Well, that doesn’t bode well for their ability to stand up and speak their mind at work.
In interviews and in the workplace, comfort and confidence are traits that successful people share. And people in the middle? Well, that’s a problem too. When I train on building effective presentations, I have a saying: If it doesn’t add value, it detracts from the message. That pertains to graphics, unnecessary colors, superfluous text/data, and anything I’d consider fluff. That guideline is pretty applicable to the workplace in general. Obviously, employees who detract value are a detriment to the team. But employees in the middle, neither adding nor detracting value, are wasting time and money. By not adding value, they’re detracting value, though they wouldn’t see it that way.
It sounds simple, but it’s so important to focus on adding value. Ask yourself, “Did I add value today?”