All of us learn many things through our careers. These are ten things I learnt in two decades of my work life so far.
1. Go after your Passion
I always wanted to have my career in the computer industry. However, as luck would have it, I spent my first five years of my career in the automobile industry. Finally, I got my break in the IT industry as a product manager. I was quite nervous initially, to jump into an industry, which I did not know well. But the sheer passion for my job, made me overcome many challenges to become one of the best in business. Passion combined with patience makes one unstoppable.
2. Learn first, earn next
Early in one’s career, it’s good to go through the grind and learning – and not focus so much on the rewards. I did some of the most difficult jobs – like being the sales manager in a remote state of India, product manager for a challenger brand, setting up a new online store/ call center, doing a pricing strategy job for the region, being the integration/ clean room lead in a mega merger etc. These roles did not pay me well, but gave me invaluable learning experience of managing things, with minimal guidance very well. Rewards came much later.
3. Get out of your comfort zone
A good career is a succession of increasingly challenging roles. A good role is a tripod balanced on three legs – where you can learn, contribute and enjoy all at the same time. If one of them is missing, time to look for a role change. Many a time, we get quite comfortable with our jobs, typically after 3 years – it’s not challenging enough anymore. Either you stop learning, are not contributing enough or you feel bored. This is the time to seek a change in role. Not all of us are lucky to get a new role ASAP, so it’s good to plan, may be a year in advance with your manager.
4. Actions speak louder
There is no substitute for old-fashioned hard work and performance even in the new world. Many a time, people even with Ivy-league education are passed over by people who deliver better results. Being proactive, coupled with good planning, excellent team work and execution delivers great performance. When you deliver results, people sit up and take notice, whether you speak well or not.
5. Good managers are great role models
Had the privilege of working directly for good bosses of different backgrounds, experience, gender and nationalities. Good managers are nice human beings first, have positive attitude, set inspirational goals, give ample freedom to execute and coach you to become your best. More importantly, they are great role models. I modeled at least one of their strengths as my own. Skills which I learnt from my managers, include – strategic thinking, growth mindset, business acumen, marketing savvy, people skills, multi-cultural & soft skills. Some of my managers even retired from the company, but I still keep in touch with them.
6. Thrive on ambiguity, focus externally
Real world and the external market are quite unpredictable. Competitors become part of your company after a merger. Collaborators become competitors with a technology change. Organizational and leadership change is perpetual. Yesterday’s heroes & world view are irrelevant today and in future. No point losing your sleep on this. One must learn to embrace change and execute amidst ambiguity and chaos. Keep the focus external. Deliver customers even better service, when things are ambiguous. This ensures you, your team and your company stays relevant in the market place.
7. Keep it simple
When technologies become more complex, when there is information overload, when you have very limited time to do unlimited work – it pays to keep things simple. We once had a senior manager, who said there are ONLY TWO JOBS in our company – Either you help our customers OR help people who help our customers. And he had a famous, 9 word goal sheet – Meet your numbers, Grow your people, Satisfy your customers. In a world of multi-row & column spread sheet goal trackers, this man was a huge simplifier.
8. Being nice is good in many ways
Which colleague do you remember after many years – the expert who came with a new strategy OR the nice guy who helped you when it mattered. When you look back at life, people remember your small acts of kindness better than your profound ideas. After 10 years in hardware business, I got to know about a new job in services. This happened over a cup of coffee; chatting with an old colleague, whom I met after many years. Being nice helped me personally. Professionally too, being nice every day, is the fastest way to get work done in a large company. As the saying goes, it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.
9. Be part of great teams with big goals
Great teams, put service above self, leverage diversity as a strength, trust and care for each other, have a strong work ethic and finally work towards audacious common goal. One was privileged to be a part of great teams, which delivered record revenue growth with record profits, both in product and services business. These business goals looked seemingly impossible at some point in time. Aiming high and even failing is OK, but low aim is the worst thing, which can happen to a high performing team. A powerful goal to a great team produces magic.
10. Life beyond work is key
This might sound counter intuitive. While work is a large part of our life, to have a great career, we need a life beyond work. Amidst our hyper jobs, we need to take time to rest and renew. One can stay physically & mentally fit through Gym, Yoga and Meditation. Other great ways to recharge include connecting up with family and friends, travel, watching movies, playing a game, listening to music, reading a book and social work. As the proverb goes “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. We stay sharp, by remembering there is life beyond work.