Lessons your mother didn't teach you

Mar 09 2009 by Cindy Wahler Print This Article

As children, our moms imparted life's lessons. These lessons were accompanied by the promise that we would be successful in the world. There is a ready market for these lessons learned in childhood, something that's obvious from the titles of just a few recent best selling books. "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten"; "Life Lessons My Mother Taught Me"; "Everything I Know About Business I Learned From My Mama", to name just a few.

But are they right? Did childhood really prepare us for the world in general and career advancement in particular?

While these lessons helped shape who we are and created a value set that guides us through life, they may limit our success if followed too closely. Real world experience has provided us with a new set of homilies. Many of these lessons fly in the face of traditional parental guidance. There are other ways to climb the corporate ladder. It's time to turn the old ones on their ear - and learn some lessons that our mothers didn't teach us.

Play with matches

Be prepared to take risks. While risk takers are more likely to get burnt, they are also more likely to reap great rewards. Volunteer for projects that are outside your comfort zone or experience. Don't hold back your opinion or point of view, stay in the arena. Just because "we've always done things this way" is not a reason to avoid approaching business challenges in a creative manner.

So instead of hiring the person with the most experience, hire the person who has a different view or a fresh perspective on new product development or how to increase sales. The upside of risk is the creation of a new business opportunity. There are endless niche markets with new opportunities for business growth. We need to adopt the perspective of increasing business rather than sustaining business.

It's not about how you play the game. It's whether you win or lose

Focus on surpassing your objectives. If you are charged with the task of developing a business plan and increasing earnings by 15%, you will be judged by whether or not you increased earnings. At the end of the day, you will be rewarded for achieving objectives, but it is the rainmaker who will have the greatest currency as they have figured out how to increase market share or outpace the competition. So being number one and focusing on the prize is what it's all about.

Talk to strangers

Network, network, network. The woman sitting next to you on the plane may become your next major client. The man in the elevator could be your new regional sales manager. Don't be shy.

Whether it's at industry conventions or while travelling or at social functions make sure that you are interacting with people. Find out what they do. Tell them what you do. The person reading this article over your shoulder may be your next key contact. Assume that everyone you talk to knows at least one person who may help you advance your career or who is influential in your industry.

Be seen and heard

Make sure you have a voice. Maintaining visibility means influencing others through relationships. Take all opportunities to speak up at meetings, offer your point of view, volunteer at industry conventions, spearhead a task force or take on a vital role for a charity of your choice. You need to create a buzz around you so your peers and boss know who you are and what you stand for. The next time the decision makers conduct a talent review, you are a known and quantifiable candidate.

Be a sissy

Empathy is a key element of all relationships, even in business. It is okay to cry or show that you are vulnerable. Clients groups and team members are motivated in different ways. Sensitivity to others brings loyalty, compassion and creates a motivated workforce. Connecting on a personal level creates compassion and a human element of personal camaraderie. Caring about each other builds on team spirit.

Talk back and don't play nice

There are times when heated debate is necessary in order to reach agreement or make compromises. Shying away from conflict and confrontation may lead to missing out on valuable opportunities. Selling your ideas grounded in a sound business rationale earns respect, creates impact and carves out your niche. So what is your brand? Are you prepared to defend it? Challenging creates respect. Being nice means you may finish last.

Don't always share

Be "selfish". Take ownership of your idea or project to move things forward and make a difference. There are times when sharing a project results in too many voices and layers of bureaucracy for your vision to take flight. Fight for what is yours and make sure those who can make a difference in your career are clear about your achievements, like new clients you brought in or a method to reduce costs. Take opportunities to present you achievements and showcase your wins both at formal and informal venues.

Don't always respect your elders

Okay. So we all don't like change. Venturing into the unknown is scary. We are supposed to listen to those who have been around the block a few times, right? They know better.

But do they? The ways of doing business has changed just like our courtship rituals Ė we would laugh at if we approached our mates like our parents did. Today's business paradigm includes such variables as the need to think globally and represent local interests, operating around the globe with an elimination of time zone differences, accelerated expectations around responsiveness and sensitivity to cultural issues.

Technology has propelled us to operate within a faster paradigm with clients demanding higher standards instantly. If not they'll cross the street. Working within a continually shifting landscape requires flexible thinking and the ability to adapt to rapid change with the philosophy "nothing stays the same". Looking to the past will guarantee extinction.

There is a need to constantly take the pulse of the current demographic with the knowledge that your customer base is fickle and loyalty is for today and only maybe for tomorrow. Make sure you keep current by accepting that nothing stays the same.

Sit up straight and pay attention

Well, maybe Mom did have one good idea. If you're not paying attention, an opportunity may pass by and someone else is sure to grab the spotlight. How often are you sitting at a meeting and your colleague "stole" your idea? It was in your head, but you held back. You were afraid to sound foolish or maybe it wasn't an earth shattering concept. Don't let someone else beat you to the punch.

About The Author

Cindy Wahler
Cindy Wahler

A Psychologist and expert in human behaviour, Dr. Cindy Wahler has extensive and broad based experience in positioning organizations for success, within both the private and public sectors.