istock_000016761568xsmallDoes it look a long road ahead?Very straight and even boring? You can’t even see where it will take you, but you have been told this is the road you need to be on if you want to gain the professional edge!

You are highly motivated. You really want to make a difference in people’s lives. You want to give what you have learned to your clients, to change and improve their lives. After all the hard work you’ve put in to get yourself the qualifications you now have and the last 2 years working under someone else’s guidance, you now want to break out a bit, plot your own course. You don’t know where to start. Everyone around you seems to be doing what everyone else is doing. There has to be more, you think.

There is and here are 5 steps you can take that will help you stand out from the crowd and gain that professional edge.

1.    Learn everything you can about your job.

Make sure that you understand your job description, that it is clear, that you know what is required. What does your manager expect from you? Whenever there is conflict between a manager and the employee, or the employee becomes disengaged, it is more often than not about differing understandings and expectations of the job.

Having a clear understanding of how your job fits into your organisation’s strategic plan, how you can directly contribute to the organisation achieving its goals, is highly motivating. As unexpected events occur, as they inevitably will, that you have not confronted before, and for which there is no systematic response, you need to have the skills and be confident enough, to work with your senior manager to produce an outcome that may become a new part of your job description.

This will demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment to your work and to the organisation and will certainly enhance your opportunities.

2.    Become genuinely interested in your industry or professional sector, not just in your job

It is no longer enough to understand your particular job and be able to do it well. You also need to understand the context of that job locally, nationally and globally.

  • What are the emerging trends – both positive and negative?
  • What are its strengths and potentials?
  • What are its threats and challenges?
  • What are the different perspectives on the industry and its future direction?
  • Are you able to evaluate the worth of those differing views?
  • Are you open to the inevitable change that organisations are faced with today?

The world moves at such a pace, that no organisation today can keep doing what it always did. It has to be constantly innovating, making changes every few years to keep ahead of the competition and at the forefront of its industry. That also applies to the people who work in it.

You can gain this understanding by

  • interacting in an open and transparent way with colleagues, especially those who have differing views to yours,
  • reading industry journals,
  • joining industry specific organisations,
  • attending industry conferences,
  • building connections and relationships with  key people in your professional area who can mentor and support you.

This is cutting edge stuff. Every person today needs to ask themselves: what could disrupt my professional or industry sector? What would I do when that happens?

3.    Invest Time and Money in Attaining the Leadership and Management Skills You need to Succeed.

You need to invest in gaining the qualifications and expertise to lead and manage. Understanding the hard stuff of business management even while there may be a specific manager in that area. You need to have an understanding of quality control, risk management, operations, governance, ethics, strategy and execution, financials and budgets as well as the specific compliance measures in your particular industry, for example. You may only be working in one of these areas, but the people who are going to be offered the opportunities to play a key role in the organisation are those who have a big picture view of it. Not only do these people know where it is going, they also know how the parts fit and work together. These are some of what are often called the “hard skills”, the technical skills, in business management and leadership.

As well you need to have well-developed non-technical skills, what are often called “soft skills”. These are the interpersonal skills that see you able to inspire and motivate your people, work co-operatively with all employees and collaborate with others to achieve organisational goals. They are also the self-leadership and self-mastery skills.

4.   Manage Yourself , Learn Self-Leadership and Develop Self-Mastery.

You need to be able to lead and manage yourself before you can lead and manage others. Self-awareness, pro-activity, emotional intelligence and resilience are key soft skills that enable you to do that.

You need to understand what makes you tick and develop self-awareness.  What is your leadership style and how does it impact on others?

You need to be proactive, be a “can do” person, rather than be reactive and a “why me” person – be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

You need to be resilient and able to bounce back from any adversity. You are living and working in very uncertain, unpredictable and changing times. You will face many situations that don’t go according to plan and have many experiences that unsettle your usually contained self. Being able to move through those in an agile way and on to new beginnings is a highly sought after skill to have.

You need to develop emotional intelligence and be able to respond in constructive and adult ways when your buttons are pressed. Becoming aware of your own emotions and those of others, managing them in constructive ways to gain the outcomes you want is a very much sought after skill for those who want to advance their careers. Being able to manage relationships, no matter how difficult, makes you highly sought after in any organisation.

5.  Focus on Creating Your Personal Brand – the Brand Called You!

When your name comes up in conversation in your professional or industry group, what do you want people to think about you? This will be what creates your personal brand, what Tom Peters called ‘the brand called you”.

How did they form that opinion of you? From where did they get that perspective on you?

In everything you do, you are creating your profile, your reputation, your personal brand. The way you present yourself, not just to your fellow professionals, but to everyone you interact with – your colleagues with whom you work, the receptionist in your office, the cleaner, your family and friends, your neighbours, the people in the community organisations to which you belong.  You need to operate with the same values towards all of them.

You create your personal brand in the way you write emails, whether you thank people, how you communicate on the telephone, whether you go the extra mile. The way you dress, your tone of voice, the way you walk into a room, shake hands, your body language, all create your personal brand.

Your character, your integrity, whether you elicit trust and honesty, whether you have compassion, whether you can listen and hear what others have to say, it’s all creating your personal brand.

It is the impression you make on people. It tells them who you are. It is created out of appearance and image, attitude, mindset, personality, sense of presence, expertise and values.

Having profile, a strong personal brand and reputation sees you able to influence outcomes within and outside your organisation. It enables you to build networks of support for your organisation and your individual career advancement.

So working hard on these 5 steps will see you gain the professional edge. If it all seems too daunting, get yourself a coach or a mentor to set you moving in the right direction, to get you on the right road to where you want to go.

A colleague of mine, Gihan Perera,  helps infopreneurs grow their their businesses which is equally applicable to individual professionals wanting to grow their careers. He has taken a quote from the actor, Steve Martin, as the tag line for his business.

Be so good, they can’t ignore you.

So I want to leave you with that message. if you want the success you deserve in your chosen career, if you want to gain the professional edge, do everything you can to “be so good they can’t ignore you”.

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