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Published on March 16, 2021

How To Excel At Work And Achieve Career Success

How To Excel At Work And Achieve Career Success

I was a teacher, coach, and education administrator for 44 years to 10 years at the high school level and 34 at the collegiate level. I also organized and directed basketball camps and clinics throughout America and in 4 European countries.

I was privileged to work with a good number of people who excelled at work which led them to successful careers.

So, how to excel at work and achieve career success?

Through the years, I observed 6 characteristics that I thought led to excellence in the workplace.

1. Humility

The most successful people I worked with were humble from their first through their last day at work. I found that people who made it to the very top of their professions in business, education, law, or medicine were humble people.

Incongruously, people who were trying to excel but had not reached the top were the arrogant, egotistical ones. This seemed to be a recurrent occurrence.

For its 75th anniversary, Fortune Magazine dedicated the entire publication to one concept – decision making. They interviewed leaders from the business, military, education, and political worlds.

I thought the most insightful interview was with Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. His comment was that the most important decisions made in the last 25 years in American boardrooms, regardless of the business, all began with the leaders saying the same 3 words, “I don’t know.”

I have worked with leaders who knew. In fact, to say I worked “with” them is a misnomer. Nobody could work “with” them because they already had all the answers.

I also worked with leaders who, when tough decisions had to be made, called in their principal people. They were not afraid to say, “I don’t know how we should handle this issue, but let’s put our heads together and find the best solution.”

I found these humble leaders to be the most secure and strongest leaders I ever worked with.

John Wooden, the iconic UCLA basketball coach, summed up humility when he wrote:[1]

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Talent is God-given, be humble. Fame is man-given, be thankful. But conceit is self-given, be careful.

2. Caring

People who excel at work care about their fellow workers.

Our basketball players at the University of St. Francis used to demonstrate for the coaches who spoke at the Chicago Nike clinics. They had to demonstrate for Indiana coach, Bob Knight, on a Saturday. They had to be nervous because Coach Knight had the reputation of being tough on players and because there were 800 coaches at the clinic.

The very first drill Coach gave our players was a disaster. Our guys totally messed it up. The coaches laughed.

Coach Knight went right over to the coaches and said, “These kids left campus at 6am to help me teach you. So, here is what we’re going to do.”

“If I hear anymore laughing, I’m going to pick 10 of you guys to demonstrate and the kids are going to sit in the first row and laugh at you.”

You never heard 800 coaches get so quiet so quickly!

Bob Knight showed he cared about our players and they were excited to work with him for the rest of the clinic.

People who care, show up. I worked with a great coach at Providence High School named Bob McAlpin. When Bob died, I naturally went to his wake. While there, our St. Francis president, Dr. Jack Orr, came into the room. I was surprised Jack was there because I knew he never met Bob. However, Bob’s daughter, Terri, was a student at St. Francis and Jack cared about her.

Successful people care.

3. Extra Mile

Successful people always do more than is expected of them.

When problems arise, people who excel at work do whatever it takes to resolve the issue. They do not have to be asked; they are always ready to go the extra mile.

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My fellow coach and great friend, Jack Hermanski, worked with Special Education students. He was a “traveling” teacher who worked with students at ten different schools within his district.

Like many school districts, budgets were minimal in Jack’s district. Jack was totally committed to teaching his students and refused to let budgets impede his serving his kids.

Having to travel daily from school to school, Jack kept all his equipment in his truck. But there was something different about the equipment in Jack’s truck. He bought all of it!

Jack went the extra mile to provide his students with the best educational experience possible.

When I worked at Providence High School, Father Roger Kaffer, who later became a Bishop, came to us as our new principal. He came at a precarious time. The year prior to his coming a diocesan committee had voted to close Providence due to low enrollment and financial problems. The Bishop at the time, Romeo Blanchette, after much urging from the Providence community, vetoed the committee and named Father Kaffer as principal.

If Providence was going to remain open, we had to increase our enrollment. Father did two things to enhance enrollment – one to attract new students and one to retain the students who came to us.

The first plan was to visit every parish school in a 20 mile radius of Providence. Scheduling these meetings in the evening, we met with the parish pastor, the principal, and the 8th grade teacher and shared the benefits of a Providence education with them. These visits definitively attracted more students to our school.

Secondly, Father did something I have never seen a principal do before or since. Throughout the school year, he visited the home of every new student who came to Providence. He continued with these visits every year he was principal. They were very instrumental in our student retention rate.

Providence went from near closure to becoming the outstanding school it is today because of one man who went the extra mile.

4. Listening

I am convinced the skill of listening can never be overemphasized. We have numerous classes in speaking in our college courses; but I believe a mandatory class in LISTENING within the General Education requirements would be of more benefit to the students.

Rather than giving you my perspectives on listening, let me share the wisdom of some Thought Leaders on listening:

  • “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill
  • “Listening is one of the loudest forms of kindness.” Anonymous
  • “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” Bernard Beruch
  • “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill
  • “God gave us a mouth that closes and ears that don’t. That must tell us something.” Anonymous
  • “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen Covey
  • “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I am going to learn, I must do it by listening.” Larry King
  • “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do something else at the same time.” Scott Peck
  • I never thought of this before. Have you? “The word listen has the same letters as silent.” Alfred Brendel

People who excel at work have developed the skill of listening. They have paid attention to Will Rogers advice:

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“Never pass up an opportunity to just shut up.”

5. Continuous Learning

“The mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.” Frank Zappa

Much like listening, knowledge leads to respect. Whatever your profession, you must work hard to learn all you can about it. Once you have the knowledge that is great; but it’s not enough.

You must, like the parachute, keep your mind open; you must continue to learn for the rest of your life. In my coaching career, it was not a sometime thing to find another coach teaching a skill or a strategy better than me. It was quite often.

As far back as the 1960’s, I believed in weight-lifting for basketball players. This practice may have been the only time I was ahead of the proverbial curve!

We lifted two days a week during the season. We were lifting for strength – trying to ready our players for the physicality of the games.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with the Chicago Bulls strength training coaches. Like everyone else, they lifted for strength, but they took it one step further.

They also lifted for athleticism. They showed us some lifts that not only enhanced strength but also improved quickness. We kept an open mind and changed some of our weight training exercises.

We also made a change in our drills that we learned from Coach Bob Gillespie of Ripon College. He taught us the value of One Minute Drills.

We always believed this adage: Repetition is the Mother of Learning. The only way you master a physical skill is through hours of repetition. Bob’s teaching led us to ascertain the main points of emphasis for each of the fundamentals we taught.

We then developed One Minute Drills for each fundamental – drills that could be executed in a short period of time. This enabled us to repeat the fundamentals more often in practice which enhanced the muscle memory of our players.

We made other changes as we were continuously learning from our peers in coaching.

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Would there be merit for you to study your fundamentals, your principles? Could you find ways to teach them better and emphasize your primary points with less verbiage?

6. Consistency of Effort

I used to think effort was the key to athletic success. I no longer believe this for athletics or any profession. I believe the difference between good and great in any endeavor is Consistency of Effort.

No one has their “A” game every day, but the great ones develop the ability and the mindset to reach down and bring the best they have every day.

Good athletes can find their best effort periodically. The great athletes have the mental toughness, once they tie up their shoes for practice and walk onto the field or court, to reach maximum effort immediately.

I worked iron working and hot tar roofing during my college summers. The men I worked with, once we got to the work site or to the top of the roof, immediately began with their best effort and sustained that effort throughout the day.

The best teachers I have worked with walk into the classroom ready to teach because of all the effort they have put into preparation.

The best clergy I have known make time for all those in their congregations. The best priest I worked with lived his mantra,

“People are more important than things.”

Whenever people in need came to him, he made time for them.

In his famous Pyramid of Success,[2] John Wooden defines success in this way:

Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.

It is critically important to accept that there are no shortcuts to success. When you can consistently bring the best you have each day, you will excel at work and have a successful career.

To excel at work: Be humble. Be caring. Go the extra mile. Be a listener. Be a life-long learner. Bring consistency of effort.

More Tips on Career Success

Featured photo credit: DocuSign via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] John Wooden: The Importance of Having Humility
[2] John Wooden: Pyramid of Success

More by this author

Pat Sullivan

Pat Sullivan is a speaker and the author of two books "Attitude-The Cornerstone of Leadership" and "Team-Building: From the Bench to the Boardroom"

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Published on March 24, 2021

8 Easy Steps To Finding A Career Right For You

8 Easy Steps To Finding A Career Right For You

In the U.S., workers on average spend 90,000 hours of their lives working.[1] This means that it is likely you will spend more time working than with your spouse or partner. For this reason, it is especially important to love your job. When you are in a job you love, it feels custom-made just for you. You feel your values reflected in the company’s mission. You feel rewarded just for working there — “Thank God it’s Monday,” you think each week, and the paycheck is nice, too.

Here are 8 steps for finding the career that fits your personality like a glove.

1. Look At Yourself Carefully

Firstly, Look Inside

Some diagnostic tests help you assess who you are and what jobs make a good fit. Among free assessments you can take, the Myers-Briggs personality test is among the most popular for gauging how you perceive the world and make decisions. It consists of some 90 either-or questions that indicate whether you consider yourself an extrovert or introvert, and what influences perceptions.

Knowing yourself and the qualities associated with your personality type can help you decide whether you would be more comfortable in a front- or back-office setting, are more of an “ideas” or “execution” person, or prefer an open office or a quiet, enclosed setting to do your best work.

Career Explorer is another diagnostic careers tool, and offers a free Career Test to reveal how your interests and goals match up against some 1,000 careers. The test asks your general interest in a handful of random careers, along with your career satisfaction in previous jobs, and predicts career matches that fit your profile.

Then, Look Outside

Your friends and family members often know you better than you know yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask them, “What kind of career do you see me in?” or “How can I find a career that’s right for me? and pay attention to their answers.

Also, think back to talents you enjoyed in your younger years, particularly those that elicited comments from others along the lines of “You’re going to make a great ___________ some day.” Others often see special abilities in you that you may have overlooked.

2. Write Lists

The perfect career awaits you if you do your homework. Keep careful lists of the qualities you possess and which types of businesses will reward those qualities.[2]

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Similarly, when your friends have ideas for you, write them down. You want to be able to go back and reflect on different career paths.

Putting pen to paper — or fingers to keyboards — and allowing yourself to follow ideas where they lead is a valuable step for finding the career that is right for you.

What elements of past or current jobs and experiences stick out as the most enjoyable? List them. Think of careers where you could recapture some of those elements.

Write down the activities where you find real joy. Do you love decorating or rearranging your living room? Could this translate to fulfilling work in interior design or merchandising? Or do you find children endlessly entertaining? Perhaps you would find teaching or youth development a rewarding career path.

Generate a list of ideas, no matter how eccentric they may seem, and see if any patterns emerge.

Write a Master List of All Your Strengths and All Your Weaknesses

Be as specific as possible. If you hate waking up before 11 a.m., it is going to be hard to hold down a 9 to 5 job (unless you can work remotely in another part of the country with a different time zone). If you love talking to people, maybe the back office of a research department is too isolating for you.

Are you high energy or laid back? Do your strengths or weaknesses tend to make you a natural leader or more of a maverick? Own your particular personality strengths and quirks, and think about the various work environments where you could make the most of them. Do you like receiving direction or chafe when someone gives you feedback?

3. Set up 15-Minute Informational Interviews

All of this introspection will help you narrow your search criteria, but then it must lead to action. Ask around to see if there is anyone you know who would spare a few minutes to discuss her field with you. It could be a friend or a friend-of-a-friend or even one of your parents’ friends. You may be surprised to find that people often want to offer advice on the steps to take to start out in their field.

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Prepare some questions in advance, for example: ask how the person ended up in her field, what best prepared her for her career, which aspects she most enjoys, and how the field is changing.

Depending on how forthcoming the person is, you might also ask if she would mind if you sent a resume to keep on file in case of any future openings.

4. Read Job Postings

Before you apply for a job, start reading job postings in the two or three fields that excite you. You can find postings on LinkedIn, MonsterJobs, Indeed, Glassdoor, and Simply Hired. Do you feel goosebumps zipping down your spine when you read about certain jobs? It could be an indication that this is the job of your dreams.

Familiarize yourself with job descriptions to learn common industry terms, roles, and in-demand skills. Glassdoor, for example, gives you an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to work for a given company — but keep an open mind, too, knowing that former employees with a grudge are usually the most motivated to post reviews.

5. Write Your Resume

Your resume should reflect the skills you possess and the specific skills sought in a job. But be sure to customize and change your resume appropriately for each position you pursue. Don’t be afraid to parrot some of the words on the list of requirements back to the company. Many times, companies will actually use the key words mentioned in the job posting when screening resumes.

Research the organization that you are targeting and try to work in examples that have relevance to their customers or clients, or to issues taking place industry-wide. State how you can add value by quantifying results you achieved in former jobs or even volunteer activities. For example, “coordinated silent auctions for children’s advocacy organizations that brought in $29,000.”

Ideally, you will want to concisely recount your skills to make a riveting impression as a professional ideally suited for the position.

Check out these 10 Killer Resume Tips to Nail Your Dream Job.

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6. Watch a Movie or Two That Features a Character Working in the Field

While movies tend to exaggerate, you may see something that either confirms that you belong in that environment or scares you away from it. Career conflicts are a genre in themselves — you can find most any job represented in some form on the big screen.

The character played by Anne Hathaway in “The Devil Wears Prada,” who successfully navigated her nightmare boss played by Meryl Streep, showed the ups and downs of working on a fashion magazine. Meanwhile, “Legally Blonde” likely inspired a whole horde of young women to enter careers in law.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Risk

When it comes to job-hunting, the biggest risk is not taking a risk. Write a cover letter that truly reflects your own personality. Remember that you need to stand out, not just blend in to the hundreds of “blah-blah-blah” letters.

So, if you’re funny, be funny. If you’re serious, adopt a more measured tone. If you’re intellectual, use bigger words. Be you, not what you think you should be. When you’re authentic, it improves the likelihood that the career you find will be the right fit for you.

Think of ways to show passion for the career path you are pursuing — and then make the case for why it is the right fit for you. Hiring managers look for candidates with dynamism behind their desire to work for the company. Choose words that reveal that you are passionate, not passive: instead of “helpful,” your findings were “game-changing.” Instead of “useful,” your discoveries proved “transformational.”

Here’s How to Write A Cover Letter That Stands out from 500 Applicants.

8. Thank Everyone Who Helped You — and Especially Everyone Who Interviewed You

The gracious job-hunter lands a job faster. Even if you don’t snag a job the first time around, when you remember to thank the people who granted you an interview, those people will remember you and think of you for other opportunities. Thanks should also go to those who provided you with a recommendation or who took time with you for an informational interview.

While it may seem old school or downright quaint, a handwritten thank-you card still carries cachet. It shows that you took time to be appreciative. Or, if you send a note electronically, sincerely show gratitude and help the person remember you by bringing up something he said that you found helpful or insightful.

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A thank you to one person should not be able to be swapped with a communiqué to any other person who helped you in your search.

You Are on a Campaign to Land a Job until You Land the Job

You will likely have to meet several people in a company. Inevitably, those people will talk to each other. Make sure the emails that you write them are different from each other instead of canned notes with different names attached. Take a look at these tips on how to write a thank-you email.

Show unwavering cordiality and professionalism to everyone whom you encounter in the company. Even if you come across the receptionist entering the restroom at the same time as you, politely hold the door. Your good impression will travel throughout the office network.

Bonus: Return the Favor When You’ve Landed Your Job

Congratulations! You finally landed! Now it’s time to pay it forward.

Remember all those who helped you follow the key steps to your sought-after career, and never pass up an opportunity to help others land jobs they love.

Returning the favor will make you even more appreciative of having found the right career for you. And, when you look for your next job, you will find that you’ve built a network of helpful people on whom you can rely.

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Featured photo credit: Saulo Mohana via unsplash.com

Reference

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