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Excelling in the workplace

Excelling in the workplace

What do successful people – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, etc – all share in common? Through specialising and excelling in different fields, all have one thing in common: They have demonstrated a refusal to rest on their achievements and instead have strived to continually achieve new heights. In one sense, it is a desire to continually better themselves that has transformed them from good to great.

For many of us we may not achieve, or even strive for, the heights of a Branson, Jobs or Gates, but a desire to be a better employee can transform us from a passive bystander in the workplace to an active, or leading, player. Being a better employee will help us improve the quality of our work, drive our careers and gain us recognition.

Here are some things to consider when striving to be a better employee:

Strengths, weaknesses and blind spots

Most of us will know what our strengths and weaknesses are - we endeavour to maximise our strengths by building on them and minimise our weaknesses by mitigating or avoiding them.

What about those strengths and weaknesses that you don’t know about? Has anyone ever praised you for doing something well that you weren’t aware you did well?

Jenny: Fred, I just wanted to let you know that I thought you did a fantastic job handling that query.

Fred: Really? I just do what I normally do. I didn’t realise I did anything special.


Jenny: Fred, do you realise that your body language was very negative when you were receiving that feedback?

Fred: Was it? I’m sorry, I didn’t realise I was doing anything wrong? What was I doing?

Not knowing your blind spots can be the Achilles heel of a career plan. It’s hard enough to minimise a weakness when you know about it, but when you don’t know about it then it becomes a negative force field that you can feel but can’t see.

The most effective way to discover your strengths, weaknesses and blind spots is to seek quality feedback from significant people in the workplace. Whenever you perform an important task or make a key decision gather honest and open feedback on how you did.

Doing this consistently will show you where your strengths are and what is holding you back.

How do I prefer to work?

We each have different preferences for how we like to work. For example, some people like to be left alone to focus on a task, whereas other people prefer to be around others. How you prefer to work is unique to you. It is a combination of many factors, such as personality, experience and attributes.

To capitalise on your strengths, work to your preferences. If you prefer to work with others, volunteer for group and project work and try to avoid solo tasks. If you prefer to read rather than listen then make notes of conversations and meetings so you can capture ideas in a manner that utilises your strengths.

Working to your preferences amplifies your output and makes you more productive and results in you being a more valuable employee.

How do others prefer to work?

Just as we have a unique approach to work, so do the people we work with.

To be a better employee you need to work well with others. Accept that others, like you, are diverse in their approach. But instead of focussing on the differences, focus your energy on finding commonality. What preferences do you share with your colleague? How can you use these common preferences to build on the diversity?

Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder, in his autobiography, describes the relationship between himself and Bill Gates as uniquely dynamic. Here were two very different personalities joined by a common vision and passion for computer programming. Steve Wozniak describes a similar relation with the late Steve Jobs.

How do I learn?

Richard Branson left school at 16. A dyslexic, his performance at school was poor. In fact, on leaving school, his school headmaster predicted that he would either end up in prison, or be a millionaire. Fortunately for Branson, and the world, he discovered his ability to learn was not through books and school, but through others.

The composer, Ludwig Von Beethoven, was a prolific writer. He compiled numerous sketchbooks, yet he claimed that he never read them when composing music. He claimed that if he didn’t write it down immediately, then he would forget his thoughts. By writing it down he would learn it and never have to look it up again.

Identify how you learn best. Do you learn from others? Do you learn from instructions and books? Do you learn through self-discovery? Again, work to your strengths; “In the past, when have I learnt the most, when have I learnt the least?”

Do I know what’s expected of me?

Successful employees have a strong relationship with their manager or supervisor. Questions such as what are my strengths, weaknesses and blind spots, how do I prefer to work, how do others prefer to work, and how do I learn are all in the context of continually improving my ability to meet and exceed my employer’s expectations.

To be able to successfully meet and exceed your employer’s expectations, ensure you sit down and take the time to ask them to clarify your goals and objectives. Make sure you that your goals and objectives align to theirs and you understand the context of those goals.

Clarifying expectations about goals and objectives can avoid misunderstandings, wasting time and effort on conflicting priorities, and builds trust and confidence amongst employers and employees.

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