We would like to believe that everyone has something to offer. Plato even argued that if each person did what he or she excelled at, society would be better off for it. But this begs the question: does this include everyone ?
Yes. Definitely. No doubt about it. The challenge is finding that perfect match between teacher and pupil to ensure that the exchange is fruitful and beneficial to both. So now what? How do you get close to people without coming across like a mere “groupie”?
1. Identify the people
Depending on who you are, what your background is and what your strengths (and consequentially, weaknesses) are, you have nothing to lose by learning from others. This may be obvious, but the real challenge is finding the best teacher for you.
After all, anyone and everyone at Redmond-based Microsoft would be lucky to pick the brain of Bill Gates. CEO Steve Ballmer would equally serve as a wealth of information to the young professional. But the reality is, not everyone is fortunate enough to get a close peak at these men. Every organization has hundreds, if not thousands, of knowledgeable people that young professionals can learn from.
A recent Fortune article on Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Middelhoff describes how the relatively young Chief Executive of one of the largest media companies in the world has managed to build an army of aspiring, driven and motivated lieutenants below his fiefdom. In other words, if you begin a job at Bertelsmann, you need not track down CEO Thomas Middelhoff and enlist him as your teacher to get the most out of your experience there.
2. Look for certain traits
In fact, young professionals tend to offer quite a bit to the older veterans of a firm. The former usually have a better grasp of emerging technologies, new trends, and have a greater disposition to embrace globalization. These young minds can become champions of change in a sea of conservative complacency.
Yet no matter how capable one can be, young professionals tend to lack, in some cases, judgment, experience and that gut feeling that makes or breaks deals, launches careers and leads one to success.
Experience comes under various shapes, forms or fashion. If you work in a global firm and your colleague has traveled extensively, then he most likely has hands-on, personal knowledge that no textbook or case study can offer.
Operational know-how is another factor that young professionals tend to lack. After all, just because your business books taught you that a spike in market share sometimes leads to increased profitability, that does not necessarily mean you will be able to achieve this. As a result, it never hurts to watch a master operator at work.
What you need to learn and how to get “in” with the higher-ups…
Financial engineering is also something the younger finance whiz may dream up but will not be able to execute seamlessly. Enron and LTCM are two examples of financial engineering gone awry. In those cases, it was not young guns that thought up the strategies, but rather older, more seasoned veterans who let their greed blur their judgment. But the knowledge gained by the burnt managers will prove to be invaluable lessons to younger managers. In hindsight, “obviously” those were disasters waiting to happen. If older managers can make such mortal mistakes, imagine the size and scope of the mistakes made by inexperienced employees…
The truth is that young managers are rarely given such great responsibilities. Given a mandate of a lesser scale, the potential mishap would be reduced as well. But the purpose of this article is not to advise you to avoid taking risks. In fact, the lesson is that good risk can lead to positive results not necessarily proven in textbooks, be it in your bank account or your career path.
3. Get close
The challenge really comes down to how you can break the circle and become part of the elite. Obvious no-nos include acting like an obsessed fan, sucking up or being a “yes” man. If a seasoned manager likes to be surrounded by minions, then this is not the type of person that will help your career in the long run.
Take smart risks
A smart risk is laying your neck on the line by suggesting something original, unique, and backing it up with sound financial analysis. But even then, chances are that your supervisor will say, “Nice job, I’m glad I thought of it.”
Understand your audience
How can you subtly come up with great ideas and earn respect? The key is to offer a thorough way of implementing your ideas. When you make such bold proposals, ask questions beforehand and inquire about how your supervisor would go about this. This way, you are testing your superiors’ reaction to your eventual suggestion and winning allies. After all, even your supervisor has a supervisor, so if your ideas are against the corporate core competency, chances are that your efforts will be ignored and worse, seen as a threat to the company’s course of action.
Don’t crash the party
The other plan is showing the important people that you too have skills, strengths and expertise to offer. Seasoned managers may walk around with a swagger, but they know, at least subconsciously, what their own weaknesses are and what threats lurk around. But if you can offset these weaknesses and turn the threats into opportunities with your skills and vision, chances are that you will be invited into the circle of the elite.
Will you succeed?
When all is said and done, you must be confident enough to display your strengths without sounding arrogant. How do you avoid arrogance? By showing that you are interested in learning and not pretending to know it all. As a result, if you have a propensity to learn and ask questions, your boss will know that you have a lot to offer and will be certain that you understand your role in the greater picture. Then, and only then, will you become part of the elite circle and seen as a successor to the throne, down the road.
Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at www.CourseToSuccess.com.
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