Making Yourself More Valuable at Work

Stephen DeAngelis

July 27, 2010

Sam Parker from BNET.com sent out a short email primer to subscribers on seven things he believes an employee can do make himself or herself more valuable at work. A friend passed it along thinking that Parker’s ideas might be interesting to readers of this blog; especially since the first topic he discusses is resiliency. Parker writes:

“On being resilient…

“The truth is, everything that has happened in my life… that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better.”
Warren Buffett (1930– )
American businessman and philanthropist

resilient: (adj.): capable of bouncing back from or adjusting to challenges and change

We all fail from time-to-time (our doing, someone else’s doing, something else’s doing, a combination of each). It’s life.

To be resilient…

  • Focus on results. Embrace the fact that results are what we’re all really after. Effort and attempts are great first steps, but we need to act with commitment to delivering (just like we want people to do for us).
  • Make lessons of failures. Minimize the tendency to make a mistake anything more than a lesson on how not to do something. We need to learn from our experiences and accept them as tuition for future success. And yes… Our mistakes might put us in a bind at times and have some uncomfortable consequences but again, that’s real life.
  • Continue on. Smarter.
  • Reinforce. Support each other (and ourselves) by continually reminding and encouraging one another to deliver on the first three points.

That’s it. Let’s practice it more.”

I would have labeled this advice “perseverance” rather than “resilience.” Although I agree that bouncing back up when one finds himself/herself on the ground is important, I believe that perseverance better describes the trait that characterizes most successful people. For more on that topic, read my post entitled Dealing with Failure often Precedes Achieving Success. Number two on Parker’s list of traits you should foster is service. He writes:

“On service …

It’s about attitude and action. It’s about being positive and having a sense of urgency. Being pleased to serve. Having effect. Mattering to the world, all with a smile.

Not a smile with unchanged eyes … a forced smile. But a smile because of a dramatic, heartfelt understanding that the opportunity to move, to act, to serve someone else in some way is the most wonderful giving-life-meaning chance (yes, chance) that all of us have (although not all of us use).

You’re at my service and I’m at yours. If we want to matter and to be happy, if we want more freedom, more flexibility, more responsibility or more money, we need to give more to those we’re supposed to be serving. We need to get over ourselves. We need to Smile & Move.”

I agree that we need to serve one another more often and more cheerfully. I’m a big fan of optimism; especially, in the workplace. For more on that topic, read my post entitled In Praise of Optimism. Number three on Parker’s list of important traits is exerting extra effort. He writes:

On extra effort …

At 211 degrees, water is hot.
At 212 degrees, it boils.
And with boiling water, comes steam. And with steam, you can power a train.
Just one degree more can make all the difference. Where can you turn up the heat?

• 2 extra acts of kindness weekly plant 104 more seeds of generosity each year.

• 15 extra minutes a day creates over 90 hours each year for what’s most important to you.

• 1 extra contact daily sparks 180 more personal connections every 6 months.

• 1 extra risk each week leads to 52 more opportunities every year for excitement and possibility.

It’s your life. You are responsible for your results. Be Two-Twelve.”

I agree that a lot of things can be achieved by hard work regardless of your abilities or talents. Some people believe that you can even raise your IQ through hard work (see my post entitled The Amazing Mind). Next on Parker’s list of valuable traits is humility (or least the ability to shed your big ego). He writes:

On getting rid of big egos …

Imagine a world without ego. No toes to step on. No feelings to hurt. No territory to defend. Just pure care.

ego: noun: 1. the self 2. an inflated sense of self-significance

To be no ego…

1. Be humble. Understand you are a (small) part of the world. Service and patience should be your top priorities.

2. Be teachable. Focus on what you can learn, rather than what you know. Remember that almost everything you learn comes from the work of someone else.

3. Listen more. Make every effort to truly understand what others are saying (beyond just words). Allow a gap of silence before responding. Ask questions (and listen, again).

4. Appreciate people. Enjoy others’ contributions. Don’t squelch ideas or defend territory. Encourage more.

5. Relax. Let go of the need to be right or win every time.”

If you’re a business executive, getting rid of a big ego could be a challenge. There is a fine line between being prideful and being confident. In business, one needs to be confident without being pompous. I’ve found that truly great leaders know how to listen and they appreciate the people who work with them. Anyone who believes that he/she is the font of all wisdom is setting himself/herself up for a mighty fall. Great leaders look for and embrace good ideas regardless of their source. Next on Parker’s list is a trait that might surprise some people: luck. He writes:

On being lucky …

‘Diligence is the mother of good luck.’
– Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)
American statesman, scientist, and printer

luck: noun: a force that makes things happen

You want more luck? Be the force that makes it happen…

1. Prepare. Work hard to be ready for the opportunities that are important to you. Research. Practice. Perfect.

2. Be awake. Pay attention to the people, events, and things around you. Evaluate logically and trust your gut instinct.

3. Take action. Put yourself out there. Explore. Be vulnerable. Make contact with people. Take risks.

4. Expect positive results. Optimism improves your chances. If (when) you fail, embrace the lesson and continue on, smarter.

That’s it. Now go be lucky (and do something).”

There’s a lot of truth to the saying, “I believe in making my own luck.” Still, some people do get better breaks than others. What’s really important is being able to recognize and then take advantage of opportunities when they arise. For more on that subject, read my post entitled Is That Unemployment or Opportunity Knocking? Next on Parker’s list of important traits is complaining less. He writes:

On complaining less …

‘This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)
Irish playwright and critic

complainless: (adj.) 1. to be free of complaints 2. a pleasure to be around

Remember… Your words move others. Your words move you. Let yours send everyone in the right direction. Be the spark. To be ComplainLess…

1. Be aware. Recognize your typical paths to complaining – what (who) sparks your tendency to gripe. Minimize your exposure to them (eliminating those ‘sparks’ altogether may not always be realistic or the best thing). Know that your grumbling is a complete waste of energy.

2. Be thankful. Regularly reflect on all the good in your life (people, opportunities, things). Understand and enjoy how lucky you really are. Be entitled to nothing.

3. Pause before you begin. Clip a complaint as you feel it coming. Put a smile or thoughtful statement in its path. Blame no one. Blame nothing.

4. Be accountable. Focus on solving problems rather than having them (especially with customers). Set the example for others and recommit when you slip. Care for yourself and create a positive habit.

Simple. More enjoyable for everyone.”

To really be a pleasure around, you need to do more than stop whining — but ceasing to whine is a good start! The final trait that Parker recommends you develop is commitment. He writes:

On commitment …

cross: (verb) 1. to move from one side to another 2. to pass over mediocrity

With everything, there’s a line. On one side of the line is a greater chance to give more, enjoy more, realize more. On the other side, there’s less of a chance. And with each line, there’s a choice. You want to cross the line or you don’t. You want the better chance at meaningful – opportunity – impact – or you settle with the lesser chance. Your choice.

It seems simple but…

Then there’ll be those times – those times when in the short run it’ll seem like you can’t cross the line (no matter what you do). But then, those misses (those hurdles) in the short run will sometimes help you over the line in the long run (in a way you couldn’t have seen). They’ll serve as lessons, giving you more depth to your experience. But you won’t know that at the time. At the time, you’ll just see that line. And it might seem like a wall. But it really is just a line (a line you want to cross). And it’s yours to cross but you have to decide (make that choice).

It seems simple but…

Then there’ll be those people – those people who’ve decided they’d rather not cross the line and would prefer you didn’t either – sprinkle in a little doubt, withhold a little encouragement, step in the way. Then there’ll be that inner voice – that inner voice that’ll remind you you’re not that special and things like that are for other people. (What are you thinking?) Then there’ll be the work – the work that’ll be the real challenge that some people never face because of the false challenges from those times, those people, or that inner voice that keep us from trying (and bouncing back). But there’s the line. And it needs to be crossed. And you can cross it. It’s up to you. (Which side will you choose?)

How to Cross the Line…

1. Choose to commit. Make the choice to improve your chances to go beyond mediocrity. Approach the things you do with the intent to deliver / succeed / serve.

2. Work hard. Good things are rarely easy (cheap). Real effort and attention are the fundamentals behind everything. (There are no quick fixes.) Earn your results.

3. Focus. Eliminate distractions. Minimize exposure to negative people, thoughts, and things that don’t serve your intent.

4. Bounce back. Learn from your mistakes and challenges and remember your choice to cross the line.

Not easy, but simple. (And it needs to be done.)”

This last section reads more like the kind of advice heard at a corporate pep rally rather than the kind of advice I’d expect to hear during a session with a personal life coach; nevertheless, the message is important: establish goals and then do what’s necessary to achieve them ethically. If you set a goal to graduate from college but never apply to any universities, you’re simply a dreamer. As the old saw goes, actions speak louder than words. The world needs movers and shakers; but, Parker is saying that you can move and shake in ethical ways. In ways that make others want to be around and follow you. Just ask yourself a simple question: Am I the kind of person that I would want to be around and work with? If your answer is “no,” you have some work to do and Parker’s recommendations may be a good place to start. If your answer is “yes,” good on you. Stay the course and change the world.