Listen friends, we all wish we were independently wealthy, yeah? You know, hanging out in the French Alps not working the 9-5 grind. But that’s not our (or at least my,) reality. We’ve got to work our faces off Monday to Friday to afford those weekend trips to Napa and our lovely condos. And since we spend more time at work than at home (TRUEE!!!), I feel we must commit to being our best selves at the office too. One way to do that, is by actively trying to be the best co-worker, employee and manager possible.
I’m in a field that’s creative, corporate, and team-oriented so have managed a lot of different types of people. I’ve run teams of up to 14 people and also teams of just 2 people. I’ve worked with people who were “please don’t ever leave me, you’re the only person who can do this” and people who were simply “good”. However, in my years of experience, I have noticed that there are consistent behavior traits across my strongest team members, that I always look for now in new hires. Today I’m going to share my tips so you can be the girl everyone wants on their team (aka Office MVP). This list is not exhaustive, but a good start.
BE HONEST: Boss ask you a question, but you don’t have the information? Don’t try to CYA and make up an answer. Just admit that you don’t know, then do your damnedest to find out quickly. No one expects you to have all the answers, but a half-baked response, or worse – an answer with incorrect information – can sometimes be more damaging to the job and the relationship (trust fail). You don’t have to know everything all the time – just be committed to finding answers when faced with an unresolved question. (Unless, of course, it is your singular job to know that singular thing he/she is asking you about, in which case, you better just know that thing. But that’s a different problem.)
In the same vein, if your manager asks you to complete a task and you don’t have the bandwidth to meet the given deadline, let him/her know. A simple: “I can’t do that by 5pm, but can deliver by tomorrow at 11am” or a “I can get it done by 5pm today, but will need to de-prioritze something else, what would you like me to move down the list?”, works brilliantly in bringing your manager into your world. Nine times out of ten, something can shift. If it can’t, put in the overtime or enlist more help. We allllls got to work late sometimes.
Also, never hesitate to share your honest opinion. Especially when asked directly for an opinion. Don’t apologize if it’s not popular, just be honest, back it up with data/rationale, and you’ll do fine. Honesty is the best policy.
Be A Team Player: I can not stress this enough: if you are in a team-based environment, then you doing your job well and someone else doing their job well is NOT A COMPETITION. As women, it is beyond life-changing to support each other in the workplace. I’m sure there are others in your office who have the same role as you. Who says you can’t all be rockstars? You being amazing at your job, doesn’t mean that Becky can’t be amazing at her job too. No one has to be a poor performer for you to be recognized or rewarded by contrast. Are you on a strong team where everyone is smart, effective and well-liked? Don’t feel like that diminishes your shine. YOU WON THE JACKPOT baby, because when the water is at high tide, all boats rise. Plus you get to be around these awesome people all day so you can learn from them, and they from you. It only makes you stronger to be around people who hold you to a higher standard. A successful team means new revenue for the office, new opportunities/challenges, and probably recognition/reward for your team, and you. Not to mention all the warm fuzzy feelings of being part of a good team.
Feel like you are crushing it at work but not being rewarded? Or are your managers openly pitting you against each other (example: You and Becky are both vying for one available promotion and everyone knows it’s a competition.) In this case, unless you thrive in this type of environment, now might be the time to explore other opportunities. I was in this position when I was younger, where my manager made me and my co-worker essentially “compete” for his praise and the one promotion available. My co-worker got the promotion, I didn’t, and I’ll begrudging admit, I resented her for it. But the truth was, it was not her fault, she was only doing the same thing I was to “get ahead”. After some soul-searching, I realized that I didn’t want to compete for the recognition I deserved, I wanted a team where we could all grow and succeed equally, and that this particular company was never going to give me that. I started looking for a that promotion elsewhere, and after 2 months I found it, and was much happier (even though it took a bit more work to find the right fit).
Bring solutions, not problems: It drives me crazy when people ask a very obvious question they could have found in their email if they searched for like, one minute. It also drives me crazy when people come to me and say “we have a problem”, without having any possible solutions. Guys, no one wants to work with the person who can’t fend for themselves. Don’t know how to do something you’ve been tasked with? Learn how. Try and figure it out on your own first. Ask a peer. Look it up on the internet. Read reference documents. But together a WIP document. Don’t immediately go to your boss and ask them for the answer because you’re lazy. Exhaust every avenue to solve it on your own and then if you can’t figure it out, go to your boss and say “I tried all these things, but need your help now”. I promise this skill, once practiced, is second nature with time. Your boss will appreciate you sparing their time for the problems that actually need their attention.
In terms of those bigger problems your manager should be solving, not you, there’s a different approach. (You know the, “oh crap, this is a huge problem, my boss will kill me if I try to solve this alone” problems.) That approach is to think about solving the problem on your own without actually DOING anything. You’re literally just thinking about possible solutions. I’m not saying spend 2 hours agonizing over information you don’t have, but based on what you know, how might you help solve this? Or, if you are the first person who found out about the problem and it’s urgent, spend 5 minutes thinking about potential answers before you walk to your boss’s office. That way, even if none of your scenarios are viable, you’ve made it clear that you are not just a messenger of bad news, you are someone who has actively spent time THINKING and committing to doing whatever it takes to resolve the problem. It’s the same reason you shouldn’t forward an email without any context or thoughts on the information within that email. We aren’t simply empty-headed facilitators passing things around our lives, we are effective thought-leaders and problem-f’ing-solvers. Preach!
Respect Others/ie EVERYONE: Remember we are all just people trying to do the very best job we can, get our cash money on Fridays, and go home at 5pm. This includes people you might not think are “important” to your career, including, but not limited to: your intern, the receptionist, and the man who empties your trash at night. Treat everyone with respect and care and you’ll feel like a million bucks at the end of the day. Worst case, you might get some fun gossip or develop relationships with people you wouldn’t normally seek out (this has happened to me, and those relationships are so dear). Best case, people will actually like you, respect you in return and WANT to work with you. And when people respect you, they trust you, give you more opportunities, and allow you more lee-way for solutions when things go wrong. Amazing how easy it is, and you get it back tenfold. Condescending or ego-driven behavior doesn’t win anyone over, and can even make your job harder. Plus why wouldn’t you want to be nice to everyone?! It makes you a happier person and you know what they say about flies and honey…
Be Passionate + Engaged: This is so easy. Do something you love! Does my job drive me crazy sometimes? OF COURSE. But I love it 95% of the time. Find a job you love, that aligns with your skill set and brings you joy, and it’s infinitely easier to be passionate. You won’t be faking it.
Don’t love your job but don’t want a new one? Go to work tomorrow and try to consciously be engaged and interested even when you don’t feel like it. It’s funny how you can trick your own mind into buying in, thereby making you passionate because you are committed, and happier because you are more passionate, and more committed because you are passionate, you see this cycle…?
Finally, Do The Work: When you commit to delivering something, deliver it to the best of your ability. If you’re not doing work you said you would, at the highest level possible, someone else is picking up the slack, and that’s not fair to those around you. Being accountable and responsible for your deliverables gains trust, respect and makes you a much-desired team member by ANY standard. Work hard, play hard, ladies.
Have any other great tips for the office? Would love to hear them!