How to turn your attributes into a habit
The seven aspects we have focused on thus far—problem-solving, ability to learn continuously and have multiple perspectives, being an adept communicator, developing an appetite for giving and receiving feedback, understanding the importance of interpersonal relationships, finding a mentor, and figuring out one’s passion—are all crucial attributes for the modern professional.
They are critical whether you are an entrepreneur, a corporate professional, or a programme manager in a not-for-profit. Or whether you are a doctor, an architect or a journalist.
Sadly, all these attributes amount to nothing if you cannot bring them all together to get the job done. Ultimately, how successful you are will be determined by others, and they will evaluate you on what you have delivered. Everyone wants results.They should care about your attributes but they don’t always. It is true that some of the attributes we have talked about are required and (ideally) necessary but may not always be sufficient for how your performance at the workplace is evaluated. On the other hand, execution, delivery and results are necessary and sufficient, sometimes unfairly so, despite poor attributes.
While delivering results may be the most important aspect, our earlier columns have not suddenly lost meaning. Because to get things done consistently and sustainably over a long, extended career, these attributes have to become a habit. They have to kick-in in different combinations and intensities every day for every project and sub-task: involuntarily and unthinkingly, much like muscle memory is honed with repeated application and constant strengthening.
Here are some specific tips on how to make these attributes a habit.
First and foremost, make sure you understand what is expected of you—be clear about your mandate, the problem you are being asked to solve, the targets and deliverables, how success will be measured, and who will measure it. Also, continue to clarify expectations as things evolve—contexts change, goal posts move, as do aspirations.
Second, to get any job done, you have to obviously build the technical know-how to do it. You have to demonstrate competence, at the least, and, ideally, mastery of content in the chosen area. This is the foundation. The ability to learn continuously and build a rhythm of professional feedback are directly useful to crafting competence and mastery, especially as chosen or assigned areas of work change faster than ever before.
Third, make sure everyone involved is aligned with what you are trying to get done. There will always be those who will say one thing, think another thing and do something else. They are the biggest impediments. Problem-solve them, have the awkward conversations, get feedback and mentoring, but don’t avoid aligning everyone to the goal. Lack of alignment can derail good intentions and smart leaders.
Fourth, keep moving. Don’t get stuck and work in cycles. Plan and prioritize. Brainstorm, ideate and think; but prototype and implement. Observe and test. Build on the feedback to refine and do a better cycle of planning, prioritizing, thinking and doing. Keep iterating till you get there: This is the try-it, fix-it approach that combines creativity and quality with measurable results.
Also, you are constantly expected to adapt and execute a lot faster than before. Project timelines have reduced over the last decade—we are in a learn, experiment, iterate, fail and move-on model. The glint of the past is no match—or insurance—against the urgency of today. This is true for young professionals, but mid-career and senior professionals will be affected even more by this new reality.
Finally, to get things done, marshal a work ethic that holds you in good stead. The three elements of discipline, attention to detail, and deadline orientation remain classic advice. However much the world of business media might hail the story of maverick and eccentric founders as the new icons of success, the honest truth is that dependable solidity continues to be immensely crucial to how you are viewed as a professional.
This is the last in the eight-part Art of Work series on building a fulfilling career. Pramath Raj Sinha has founded several higher education institutions and Shreyasi Singh is a business author who now works in higher education. Read the earlier columns in the series at Livemint.com/ArtofWork.
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