On Climbing the Ladder

When I was in college and law school, I was under the impression that those that get ahead do so, primarily, due to intelligence, skill, hard work, and dedication. And, indeed, those factors play significant roles in success in any field. The surprise of my working career has been, however, how many other factors lead to success and, conversely, how many can lead to failure.

The first is simply one’s appearance. If you don’t look the part, you don’t get the part. One of the most dangerous workplace rules is the casual dress code. Sure, you can take full advantage of that, but, in most places, you don’t climb the ladder in shorts and sandals. Visual cues matter.

Second, I’m amazed by how important simply showing up is. Being dependable and predictable is key. I previously worked with an extremely smart, productive coworker, but his frequent, unpredictable work absences just stalled, even derailed, his career. You just gotta show up. All the time. Ready to contribute. It’s not rocket science.

Next, a positive, happy attitude. Fake it, if you have to. No one wants to be around Negative Nancy, and, when it comes time to parcel out important tasks and assignments, people gravitate to those with a “can do” spirit. And, those that succeed at those important tasks and assignments get future opportunities. Again, this is basic stuff.

Related to attitude is the fact that gossips, whiners, emotional blackholes, and conspiracy theorists never get ahead. These odd ducks seek each other out and spend the rest of their careers huddled in corners, sharing the information they just know explains the latest office development. They are always wrong and a drag on office morale, efficiency, and productivity. A major key to success is steering far, far away from these folks. People note your company, and there is such a thing as guilt by association, as unfair as it may be.

Finally, doing more than the minimum required will unlock door after door. Most people want clear directions and work to satisfy expectations. Successful folks do more. They exceed requirements, they ask for additional work and responsibility, they bring ideas to the table, they volunteer to contribute in unique and positive ways at the office. A major mistake many people make is believing that they will be rewarded for meeting expectations. Sure, you’ll get a “good job,” but the key is to exceed expectations. To give your employer more than he or she expected. It’s not a mystery, but it is a test of your desire and dedication.

You can have all the talent, intelligence, or skill in the world, but still find your career stagnating. No one is going to hunt you down to reward you. Success doesn’t come knocking. You have to go out and earn it, and, luckily, the keys to success aren’t a great mystery.

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