Memorial Day Management Musings – 3 Questions to Ponder Over the Weekend

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We’re mere hours away from the long weekend. The last thing you want to be thinking about is your career. In fact, if you’re anything like me, as we speak you’re searching for creative ways to sweep a few last minute tasks under the rug and hope nobody notices. You’re deliberating over whether or not it’s too obvious if you cancel your afternoon meetings on account of an “urgent family matter” (it is btw). Career strategy aside, I fully support this. It’s time to relax.

But as much as the long weekend is your time to let it all go, to dump the stresses of work behind you, and trade in your power suit for your swim suit, it’s also a great chance to reset and get your mind right for when you return to work on Tuesday. I’ve always found that when I get back to work from a vacation or a long weekend it’s like a chance to start fresh again, to right the ship and make sure I’m headed in the best direction possible.

Here are a few questions to ponder while you’re swirling cocktails or working in your garden this weekend.

What image am I portraying: Aggressive or objective?

For decades now, holding people accountable and being passionate about your work have been universally accepted management best practices. And while on the surface they seem sensible, in practice they can stop your career dead in its tracks. You should never forget that human beings make up the decision making engine in your company. Your upward mobility will be decided entirely by the people you work with. So if you’re too passionate, too demanding, or too aggressive, people will not root for your success, they won’t want you on their teams. In my experience an image of objectivity and mentorship is much more useful to advance your career than an image as a task master or passion player. When you get back to work on Tuesday, try being a bit more objective in how you present ideas and find opportunities to help people when you might otherwise hold them accountable.

Am I differentiating myself or am I part of the herd?

It can be very therapeutic to gripe and gossip with your peers at work. We all have a difficult boss or unrealistic objectives or incompetent co-workers, and it feels good vocalize our discontent to our colleagues. You should never do this. It’s also way easier to hang out and network with peers or subordinates rather than put the effort in to network with superiors and executives in the company. This is also a mistake. As tough as this may be to accept, you can’t treat your peers at work like your friends – in reality they’re your competition. There are a limited number of promotions available to you at any given time. For most of us there are one or two chances for a promotion every few years. To get it, you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Gossiping and griping with your peers at work does the opposite – it makes you indistinguishable from the herd and can eliminate your chances if you’re observed doing it. When you come back to work on Tuesday, start being more positive, stop gossiping and complaining at work, and seek out opportunities to network up the corporate ladder instead of just with your peers.

What points am I putting up on the board: Career field goals or career touch downs?

When it comes to career advancement, small wins and reliable performance do not put a winning score on the board. It can take as many as five small victories to equal one big win. Managers who play a game based on reliability tend to become known only for their mistakes. Mistakes, unlike small wins, reverberate across the company and garner lots of attention. It makes much more sense to pursue a big win strategy even at the expense of making more small mistakes. Big wins are memorable, they build attention outside your department and they ultimately lead to promotions. When you get back to work next week, try to find some bigger projects to participate in. Find a process to improve or a task force to join. It’s the big stuff people will remember when promotion time comes around.

You certainly can’t spend your long weekend obsessing about your career, but while you’re searching for you tee shot in the woods or waiting in line for a hot dog and a beer, give these questions some thought and make sure you’re on the right track to advance your career when you get back to work.

Happy Memorial Day!

For some light long weekend reading, check out Stealing the Corner Office – The Winning Career Strategies They’ll Never Teach You in Business School