Take charge in your career, but be a team player. Make sure your ideas are heard, but listen more than you speak. Look out for number one, but support others.
Are you confused yet? I can’t blame you. The waters you need to navigate in your professional life can get undeniably murky.
We’re told to grab the reins, be assertive, and steer our careers in the direction we want them to go. But, we’re also told not to be bossy—we shouldn’t put ourselves first. We need to be competitive, but we also need to be collaborative.
It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, that’s for sure. And, finding the balance between the two can present some challenges, much like today’s “Dear Kat” reader has discovered:
Dear Kat, I’m so often told to be more assertive in my career and go after the things I want. But, I’m also worried about being viewed as pushy, overbearing, or inconsiderate. I want to be competitive in my career, but I don’t want to step on others to get there—in fact, I want to lift them up with me. Do you have any advice for climbing the ladder—without stepping over other people or sending them tumbling off entirely?
First, this is an excellent attitude to have. Yes, it definitely pays to look out for number one in your career (nobody cares about your success and future as much as you do!). But, if you can find a way to do that without being condescending or brutal, you’ll maintain a positive professional reputation and solid relationships.
So, how do you strike this balance? Here are a few tips that will help:
1. Celebrate Others
We all fall into this trap: Thinking that other people’s successes are our failures. When someone gets a promotion, an award, or a great new job, it’s pretty much human nature to get down on yourself—why didn’t you achieve that very same thing?
As natural as that might be, it’ll ultimately only drag you down and undermine your confidence. And, when you think about it, silently resenting or envying that person won’t push you any further ahead.
So, rather than feeling disheartened and wallowing in your own negativity, join in and celebrate that person’s successes. Congratulate him or her on a job well done! After all, it’ll be tough to foster a reputation as someone who’s supportive and encouraging if you constantly turn a blind eye to everyone else’s accomplishments—yet expect them to leap for joy when you achieve one of your own.
2. Learn From Others
Of course, you can take things a step further than just recognizing those people who accomplish great things. Why? Well, because these are people that you can learn a lot from.
Maybe that person just completed a major project that intrigues you. Or, perhaps she landed a promotion that you’re eager to land one day. Instead of thinking that person just took your spot, make it your mission to learn from her own experience and insights.
After you’ve congratulated her (remember, that’s important!), request a time when you could take her out for a celebratory coffee or drink when she has time. This will give you the perfect opportunity to find out more about that person’s path—experience is a great teacher!
One word of caution: You don’t need to do this in a sneaky or passive aggressive way. Simply state that you admire what she’s achieved and you’re curious to know more about the steps she took to get there. Hopefully, she’ll be more than willing to share!
3. Share Your Insights
If you expect to learn from the people ahead of you on the ladder, you also need to be prepared to return the favor and help out the people that are below you.
Often, we feel tempted to hold onto our own tips, advice, and experiences like they’re trade secrets—we reveal just enough to seem helpful, but not so much that we’re handing people things on a silver platter.
But, ask yourself this: What’s the worst that can happen if you turn around and offer other people truly beneficial and actionable advice? They’ll achieve things similar to you? Is that really so bad?
If you truly want to be collaborative, resist the temptation to keep your best advice so close to the vest. Helping someone else make strides in their own career is rewarding (and typically does no harm to you!). In fact, more often than not, it elevates your professional reputation and establishes some great mentor/mentee relationships.
4. Always (Always!) Act With Integrity
Oh, how easy it can be to ignore our conscience in those moments when we want nothing more but to keep clawing our way up that ladder. We’ve all done things that make us feel a little shameful—whether it’s throwing a co-worker under the bus or going over a boss’ head.
However, you will never—and I really mean never—regret acting with integrity. How can you make sure that you always act with a clean conscience? Well, slow down a little.
Before acting or speaking, ask yourself if this is something you’ll be proud of. Would you say whatever you’re about to say in front of that person you’re speaking about? If someone found out about the way you’re behaving, would feel the need to duck your head in shame?
Let’s face it—your conscience is pretty good at speaking to you. So, when you get that uneasy feeling that you’re doing something a little shady or ruthless, take a deep breath and find another way. You can definitely be competitive, without being cutthroat.
There’s no denying that being competitive and aggressive in your career—while avoiding being unnecessarily aggressive or pushy—can be a tough balance to strike. But, it’s doable, as long as you’re willing to press pause, practice some humility, and change your perspective a little bit. Put these tips to work, and you’re sure to walk that fine line!