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Published on March 16, 2021

How To Excel At Work And Achieve Career Success

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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.

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

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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"

Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: 5 Levels Explained How To Excel At Work And Achieve Career Success How To Focus on the Good Things In Life (When Times Are Tough) How To Manifest Abundance and Wealth in Life

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Last Updated on September 5, 2021

How To Be Proactive At Work: 7 Habits To Build

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How To Be Proactive At Work: 7 Habits To Build

I don’t know about you, but it was nearly impossible for me to be proactive at work last year.

Every week, I would map out my game plan and color-coded my calendar. But when I tried to set things in motion, I faced ten-foot barriers that would force me to change direction. I’d have to reschedule meetings, push deadlines back, and reorganize my life because of all the twists and turns. Pivoting became my life, and it was taking over every part of it.

When I think back to 2020, it was like trying to survive the Tour de France blindfolded. By the end of the year, I was worn out, and I was in no mood to organize my 2021 goals. Being proactive was the furthest from my mind. In many ways, I didn’t even want to dream about new projects.

When January 1st entered the scene, I crawled back under my covers and hoped for the best—or at least a year that would be more predictable with less pivoting.

You want to be hopeful for this year, but a part of you is afraid of another year filled with more barriers and you’re tired of trying to survive the chaos. You’re not alone.

Over 100,000 businesses have permanently shut their doors because of Covid-19.[1] Start-Ups aren’t getting a second chance.[2] And according to Pew Research, one in four adults still have a hard time finding money to pay their bills.[3]

This reality is not the most inspiring for those of us who are business leaders. If anything, it feels like the grim reaper is right around the corner to destroy our dreams and add us to the rising number of failed companies.

Being proactive is one of the most challenging things to muster right now. But it is one of the most imperative traits that we need to embrace.

But first, let’s be clear, what does being proactive mean?

Defining the Term “Proactive” In-Depth

The word proactive often floats around the workplace, usually by well-meaning managers asking employees or their team to, “Be more proactive!” But have you ever stopped to think about what that actually means?

The dictionary definition of proactive is, “acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes.”

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Being proactive is about dealing with any obstacles or challenges before they even happen. Simply put, a proactive person plans ahead.

For example, you’re buying an older home. The seller tells you that it has a sturdy foundation and an engineer confirms it. Most people would be satisfied with this answer.

A proactive person, however, would think beyond what’s presented and look into any potential issues. They may ask questions like, “How long is the lifespan of the foundation?”, “Is it earthquake ready?”, or “Does insurance cover the foundation?”

Depending on the answers, proactive people would respond accordingly and put safeguards in place to avoid these problems or minimise its impact. While it seems like a lot of resources and effort are spent at the beginning, it can actually lessen your stress and save you time and effort because you’re either preventing a problem or already have a solution at hand when the challenge arises.

This doesn’t mean that proactive people never have to put out fires on occasion. However, when you have a proactive mindset, most of the issues that come up seemingly out of left field are already something you’ve considered. And this makes you better equipped to handle situations calmly and enact a solution.

If you want your business to succeed this year, you need to be proactive at work. Situations around the world are constantly changing and you never know what the next month, year or even hour might bring and how it would affect your work. Planning ahead and preparing for the future is incredibly vital in our current climate.

Proactivity vs Reactivity

We can’t discuss proactivity without exploring the other side of the coin: Reactivity.

Being reactive is the complete opposite of being proactive. A reactive person doesn’t feel the need to address a problem until it’s already occurred. They simply react to a situation because it’s already there.

Spontaneity and the ability to address problems as they arise is important in leadership, and in life. After all, we cannot predict the future no matter how hard we try. But oftentimes reactive people encounter problems because they refuse to take action even though there have been warning signs of imminent trouble.

Reactivity also comes from a place of panic. Because you have not thought or planned ahead, you react instantaneously. You may not offer the best solution because you haven’t had time to fully review the situation, and maybe even create more problems.

It won’t be easy, but it will be a lot easier with the following practical habits that I’ve put together for you. These tools will make all the difference for you and your organization.

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7 Practical Habits to Turn Reactivity into Proactivity

Even proactive people can exhibit reactive behavior. No one is perfect and the corporate and business world can be unpredictable. But you can turn things around and be proactive even when you have not anticipated challenges that face you. Here are some tips:

1. Don’t Be Busy

Repeat after me: only do what is necessary—no more and no less.

If you’re anything like me, as soon as January 1st comes along, you cram in all your five-year goals into one packed year. You love seeing your schedule filled. But being busy isn’t the same as being productive. Being proactive requires you to take a step back, reevaluate your priorities, and actually take things off of your plate before adding new goals.

The brain is not designed to always operate at full capacity twenty-four hours a day.[4] It needs a break. If we’re constantly immersing ourselves throughout the day with frivolous tasks, then we don’t have time to concentrate on our goals.

This year, I’m taking a break from the chaos and learning to do fewer tasks with more investment.

Think of it this way. Planning takes time. It’s like painting an apartment. Before you can add color to the drab walls of your living room, you have to plan and prep the area. The same is true for being proactive at work.

2. Stop Trying to Run Everyone’s Race

If you want to direct the narrative of your life, you need to take a step back and get rid of the clutter. Figure out what you can delegate and then, focus your energy away from the distractions. Not every email needs a reply, and not every job is right for you.

Shakespeare said it best,[5]

“To thine own self be true.”

These six words need to become your mantra.

If you want to reach your goals this year and be proactive, you need to walk forward with laser focus. If you compare yourself or your business to the next big thing, you won’t contribute anything except a lesser copy of yourself and your organization.

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Part of being proactive is being creative. You have to be able to see the different angles and nuances in a situation or project in order to anticipate potential issues and come up with creative solutions. If you’re constantly looking over someone else’s work, you’re not focusing on what’s in front of you. And you could end up missing a lot of obstacles that you could’ve avoided if you were paying attention.

Stop looking around. Your purpose is not to run the race of someone else. If you want to be proactive at work, you need to stop comparing yourself to your neighbor and stick to running your own race. It’s the only way that you’ll win.

3. Make “Essentialism” Your 2021 Word

When you’re figuring out your 2021 goals, take time to weigh the cost. Ask yourself if it’s worth the investment. Being proactive means that you take into consideration all the variables before cementing your goals.

Before you map out your plan or get crazy with those highlighters, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Will this goal help create balance in my life?
  • Will this goal produce a return on investment?

If you can answer a resounding “yes” to both of these questions, then take these ideas and write them down on a piece of paper.

After you’ve compiled a list of 15 to 20 ideas, take a new sheet of paper and break it into two columns. The first section should contain a list of goals that take priority. These ideas would fall under the umbrella of being trend-related and financially profitable.

The second section should contain a list of goals that will increase your social proof and promote your priority goals. This column drives traffic and promotes awareness of your business and your product.

After you’ve compiled this list, break it in half and cut it down to three goals in each section. Three is the perfect number because it gives you leeway to pivot and bend if you need to make changes throughout the process.

The two excellent tools that have helped me develop a schedule of essentialism are Hilary Rushford’s Elegant Excellence Journal[6] and Jill Konrath’s book, “More Sales. Less Time.

Both of these tools have helped me focus on what’s important, make the best decisions for my business, and make a profit without sacrificing my health.

4. Order the Same Latte

When you look at the greats in the business world, they all encompass one thing: simplicity.

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If you minimize your choices and stick to the basics, you’ll have the ability to save time and focus your energy on decisions that require your creativity. Keeping up with the latest fashion trends not only sacrifices your time but also sacrifices your budget.

Remember, it’s not about looking successful. It’s about making choices that give you the ability to be successful.

Here are four things that you can do to save time to make you more proactive at work:

  • Buy multiples of the same outfit and mix and match throughout the week.
  • Order the same drink each day from the same coffee shop.
  • Prepare meals at the beginning of the week for lunch and dinner.
  • Set your alarm for the same time each morning, including weekends.

5. Don’t Pressure Yourself to Respond Immediately

It’s okay to be surprised or be blindsided. Sometimes things just happen that is out of your control. What you are in control of, however, is your reaction. There’s nothing wrong with not having a solution or response at hand. It’s okay to take a step back and think about it first before responding.

6. Put a Pin on It

If you find yourself being unable to come up with a good solution, you can put a pin on it. You may want to address another matter first, one you already know how to deal with. It may give you inspiration and confidence when you come back to your other issues. Unless of course the imminent problem is fire outside your door.

7. Prioritize What’s Important

The thing with problems that come up suddenly, is that they may have already caused damage you can’t reverse. You have to learn to accept the situation and instead of trying to solve the unsolvable, prioritize what’s important, see what you can salvage and take note of lessons that will help you in the future.

It’s impossible to be proactive if you feel rushed. But if you follow the above tips, you’ll gain more time in your schedule and have more energy to lead your business and operate with a well-organized game plan.

Final Thoughts

I think the majority of us are tired of feeling like we’re contestants in Survivor. After all, who wants to be filmed while living in the woods and surviving off of bugs and tree bark?

All kidding aside. This past year has been challenging. But we can learn a lot from these past twelve months.

If you want to be proactive, simplify your schedule, focus on your path, only take what you need, and be purposeful with your time and energy. Being proactive is not about filling up your schedule. It’s about creating balance in your life.

I know it seems daunting right now, and many of us are still trying to figure out how to pay this month’s rent with spare change from the couch. But if you take the time to prepare and figure out what’s a priority this year, you’ll not only meet your goals, you’ll enjoy the journey.

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You have all the tools you need to be proactive at work. Now, go map out your 2021 goals for the year!

More Tips on How to Be Proactive

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

Reference

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