5 tips for your career success: be a leader who inspires

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to work hard to get to the top. You need a career strategy by investing in the

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to work hard to get to the top. You need a career strategy by investing in the right skills (assuming you already have the minimum technical qualifications like a bachelor’s degree). One of the top skills for your career success is effective communication. By far, great public speaking skills will get you ahead of the pack when it comes to promotion, exposure or ‘representing the CEO’ at the next conference.  A great leader must be able to mobilize teams and have others rally behind his agenda.

Fact: great leaders and influencers are great speakers and to make their point they tell stories.  This fact is well documented that if you don’t yet have a collection of personal stories, you are not ambitious enough.

To be captivating and original, you must tell personal stories. This works because it is difficult, if possible, for someone to copy your personal stories! You don’t want to tell an ‘off the shelf’ story like Chicken Soup for the Soul. You risk being seen and sounding unoriginal. Great story tellers (like Hollywood copywriters) error on creating a connection and then sustaining it using a mix of characters, plots and conflicts among characters.

Once I create an early connection, I want to take you on my journey so that you are anxious of what next? What will happen to this person or the characters in the story! How will it end? That is called curiosity or interest and keeps people hooked up to the end. You will become a great speaker once you ensure you tell stories relevant to your target audience. This strategy has made TED speakers great.

Consider my personal real life story below:

What do you think is the number one reason why few people raise quickly to the top while many tend to languish in the middle and lower management? The answer is not something you think.

I joined a big four audit firm on 1st July 2006 as Auditor 3 (the lowest rank!) despite having applied for a senior consultant position. My earlier experience as an auditor in a bank had helped me appreciate the importance of understanding the company’s business strategy. I knew the ‘big 4’ firm I had just joined also had one. In my first month, I looked for its corporate strategy in vain until one day I saw it on the desk of my senior supervisor and asked to read through! In there, I noted the firm’s strategic focus on “consulting or advisory” instead of “assurance or audit.” In fact, for the next five years, the firm was to focus on having 70% of the revenue from consulting instead of audit. This meant more resources were being pumped into the consulting business. It was clear that to grow my career, I had to be in consulting! A week later, I wrote an email to the Partner in charge of the consulting section. He replied “your request noted, to be considered.”

On 6th September 2006, just two months of my joining the firm, I received a call via the Intercom from the managing partner, John – a tall man with Cowboy like body build. In his office was another person seated across in the corner.  It was my first time to his office (on the topmost floor of a four-level office). I had heard some stories about his dislike for averageness and how any summon to his office was most likely about reprimand. Thank God I had done my research about all the top managers and knew about John’s addiction to Golf. I entered his office and before I could say anything he asked: “You have an MBA right?” “No sir, but I am equally good”, I replied. Ok, he said “I have sent you to say, Client Y, to document IT policies and procedures, how do you go about it?”

I looked at him directly in the eyes and said: “May I first have a seat Sir?” to which he nodded, pointing to an empty seat.

“I would use the ‘top manager’ approach”, I said. “When I went to audit one of our bank clients as a team leader, I made sure I left office after having contacted the person who had signed the contract with the firm – the bank CEO. I told him in advance what I needed to start. By the time I reached there everything I had asked for was in place. The CEO had already instructed the CFO to attend to us and everything we needed was readily available. That client has already paid us, Sir and we did it within a month. I met him at the Golf club the other day and told me we did a good job. Contacting the top manager in advance worked, and I am sure it will work for this project too…” I added.

‘Great… Mustapha. From today, you are no longer an auditor. You are a senior consultant.” Pointing at the person I had found in his office, he added “he will give you the contract, start on that work this week and report to me every two days via email. And also have HR formalize his move to consulting.”   

Welcome back.

Know what, I skipped over four levels in that promotion!

That is how I joined consulting. It was the best career move. Consulting had many opportunities for travel and training. As my audit colleagues were busy ticking and bashing, I was airborne travelling the continent helping clients succeed. I always got fast promotions in the three companies I worked for – a bank and two ‘big 4’ audit firms. If you want to succeed in your career, do as follows:

  1. Use Google and LinkedIn well. Research about the top managers in your company – their interests, family and past times. If you cannot meet them at office, try to frequent the places they go to. Caution: if your position is too below your boss, don’t try to be at the same level with your boss at their leisure joints. If you find that he likes Golf, ensure he sees you at the Golf club pushing the cart, etc.
  2. Know your employers strategy and priorities. What exactly are the company’s key areas of focus? What kind of customers is the company looking for tomorrow? You see, innovation is about changing to meet tomorrow’s customer needs. Try as much as possible to be in the department or product being identified as a flag bearer for the company. If you work at Microsoft and are still in the department supporting “Windows XP”, I am sorry for you!
  3. Invest in your communication skills. I don’t care how many degrees or qualifications you have, if you cannot express yourself before peers, clients and your team – your qualifications are good seeds planted on a rock!  It is your business to ensure that people who can give you a promotion are aware that you are good. Learn how to tell stories to tell your points. Make sure that you exploit any company gathering to make great insights about how you see the company tomorrow and what needs to be done.
  4. Know the company’s products and service offerings by heart and be good at selling. The main objective of any business is increase shareholder value. You can do this by generating more revenue or cutting costs. I don’t believe in cost cutting – it is an activity correcting old mistakes – and usually demotivates. So, focus on selling more. Take it from me, if you want to succeed, sell.
  5. Make yourself useful to your team, and ensure that all staff recognizes your presence. While in the first audit firm, I made sure that I summarize the daily newspapers and send a brief to all staff every day before 7:30am. Providing request for proposal summaries and the deadlines was so valuable that the managing partner started sharing it with his colleagues! I got noticed.

Take it from me. Organizations are full of corporate politics and you must play it smart. Just make yourself useful to the team. Any of the above ideas will make you valuable than average employee who keeps languishing in lower management for three or even five years!  That is unfortunate. Remember, it is your responsibility to succeed on any job.

What do you think I have missed? Add it below and let’s share. What is your experience?

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