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Self-Investment for Sustained Success: Navigating the Initial Stages of Your Career

A small green plant shoot growing out from a pile of coins.
Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

Invest in yourself - Building a foundation: Technical Skills and the Path to Mastery

My clients are busy, driven people. Many are senior executives regarded as successful, having made it to the most senior levels of their profession: Partners, Managing Directors, and C-Suite executives. The most successful ones invest in continuous learning throughout their careers and don't rely upon their employers and superiors to direct it. They operate from a growth or abundance mindset, which acts as an accelerator for their careers. They don't allow their skills and knowledge to lose value steadily. They invest in themselves.

Continuously learning can be expensive in terms of time and effort, but standing still and not furthering one's personal development costs a fortune.

Warren Buffet, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, sums it up perfectly: "Generally speaking, investing in yourself is the best thing you can do. Anything that improves your own talents – nobody can tax it or take it away from you."

So, what should you focus on when investing in yourself?

Initially, I wrote this for someone just starting out in their career, but the more I wrote, the more I realised it is a powerful reminder for anyone further along with their career as well. Hence, I am sharing it with you today.

At the start of your career, your top priority is to invest in the technical skills and competencies relevant to your day job. Excelling at your day job is your top priority early in your career. Set yourself to becoming the best-informed person in your team on the tasks, projects and areas you are assigned. Learn all about your clients, technologies, tools, projects, and the ins and outs of the business. Many people you will work with are too lazy to do this kind of homework.

Second, spend your twenties saying YES and the rest of your life saying NO. In your twenties, early in your career, say yes to everything. It expands your luck surface area (the chance of good things happening for you) and lets you explore further. Later in your career, it will be the time to say no to almost everything.

Early in your career, saying yes and building a reputation for figuring things out is a clear way to stand out.

Saying yes gets you into rooms and conversations you need to be in.

Another way of thinking about this is to work hard and then work smart. If you prefer to spend all your spare time doing other (non-work) things, I may like you better, but do not complain that you are not being promoted fast enough.

Third, learn to write better. Writing about something, even something you (think you) know well, usually shows you that you didn't know it as well as you thought. Writing about something teaches you what you know, what you don't know, and how to think. Writing about something is one of the best ways to learn about it. Writing is not just a vehicle to share ideas with others but also a way to understand them better yourself. Writing isn't going away in the world of AI and automation. In fact, clear thinking and writing will grow in importance as the broader noise level increases exponentially.

Last but certainly not least is investing time and energy to improve the so-called "Soft skills". Soft skills should really be called essential skills. Mastering these skills is vital as your career develops because leadership is behavioural. Leadership success or failure doesn't just happen; the difference between the two often comes down to our personal behaviours, so it makes sense to start early on your path to mastering these skills - such as collaboration, communication, negotiation, empathy, creative thinking, deep focus, and empathy. "Soft" skills are essential skills.

I have consistently found the best way to get better at almost anything, and therefore invest in yourself, is to act on the feedback that you receive. But busy, driven people often lack a systematic feedback mechanism to tell them what they need to start doing or stop doing. Many organisations, especially professional and financial services, are usually terrible at giving feedback.

It is not uncommon for people to tell me that "...they don't know where they stand with their boss."

If that is even partially true for you, then read on.

🏋️ Challenge: Build a Personal Feedback Loop

Become a role model who is proactively seeking feedback and constructively acting upon it. Here are nine steps to building a supportive, challenging, positive feedback loop:

  1. Proactively ask your current boss. Specificity is essential. Don't just ask, "How am I doing?" What could you be doing more of, start to do, or stop doing to be more helpful/impactful in the team? Look to help solve their problems and link the feedback to the issues they may be facing.

  2. Ask a previous boss. Ask specific questions such as "What did I do that used to drive you up the wall or that caused you to cover for me or put out fires that I inadvertently caused and was unaware of?"

  3. Find a mentor at work who will observe you in action and provide timely and constructive criticism.

  4. Ask a friend at work or someone you know outside of work - again, be specific. Generic questions aren't beneficial.

  5. Ask a trusted peer to provide specific feedback - have them watch you in a meeting or when you are speaking.

  6. Listen carefully to what people are really saying. Pay attention to what people are saying, what they aren't saying and how they say it.

  7. Watch successful people in action - what do they do that makes them so successful, and how is it different to what you do? How might you authentically develop that skill or behaviour?

  8. Get an independent executive coach - a coach is a trusted, independent partner. Someone who will hold you accountable and provide an outside perspective to help you see yourself as others see you.

  9. Form a challenge group. Unlike a support group, they will challenge your logic, identify holes, and improve your reasoning and thinking to develop more compelling solutions.

A personal feedback loop is a system that supports a leader's development efforts. Remember, this feedback is the beginning, not the end, of a continuous learning and development process.


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