Written by Eric Kimani October 23, 2007: Myles Munroe describes potential as “unexposed ability… Reserved power… untapped strength… capped capabilities… unused success… dormant gifts… hidden talents… latent power… what you can do that you haven’t done… where you can go that you haven’t gone… who you can be that you haven’t yet been… what you can imagine you haven’t yet imagined… how far you can reach that you haven’t yet reached… what you can see that you haven’t yet seen… what you can accomplish that you haven’t yet accomplished.”
And he goes on to tell us that we are all capable of much more than we are presently thinking, imagining, doing or being.
In this regard, let me talk of self management capabilities. I have narrowed this down to what we need to do to stay visible and hence grow in our careers.
By visibility in career I mean the ability to be noticed for growth and promotion. I strongly believe that it is a person’s visibility or lack of it that will greatly determine one’s career growth.
So, what is it you must do to be visible?
Stay on the screen. Ensure that you are seen. That you are noticeable. In 2004, I had this junior woman walk into my office with a proposal on how to grow our market. She was truly junior in relation to my position as then, an MD.
It took great courage for her to walk through the hierarchy and bureaucracy, but she did and you know what? By the end of the year she was in Japan for a week promoting the company products. I had never seen her before the day she walked into my office.
I have followed her career growth and she is still growing. You must ensure your visibility by staying on the radar screen.
Offer to help sort out problems for others
One of the reasons I got promotions early in my career was because I often came up with suggestions of more efficient and effective ways of doing things to help others in what they did. I joined my first employer as a clerk.
The company had a huge backlog of statutory returns to be completed. No one was willing to do the work as it was mundane and added little to any key responsibility. I offered to do the work in my spare time. I recall days I worked till midnight. Luckily I was a bachelor then and youthful.
I have no doubt in my mind that this was the beginning of a stream of promotions within the company that saw me not only qualify for my CPA, but also reach the second highest position in finance within the company.
My ability to step out and help provide solutions kept me visible. I joined one of the companies as an internal auditor and by the end of my career with that company, I had been promoted to the highest level possible — the director of finance.
I remember my superiors then trusted me to initiate and oversee change in many areas. I owed my fast career growth to my ability to step in and offer solutions.
Remember, image is everything
How you act. How you dress is all important. You must act like a boss. You must dress appropriately for the position. About three years ago I joined the board of Help Age International in London as one of a truly global board of trustees drawn from all over the world. Since the other members of the board do not know me, I can attribute much to the image I portray for them to have unanimously agreed this year to elect me as the next chairman of the board.
You must support your superior’s success
Never bad mouth your immediate superior particularly to his own superior. This is a career trick many career builders overlook. It calls for diplomacy, particularly if you have a bad boss.
But the bottom line is the “boss is always right”! One of my key winning strategies in my career building has been my diplomatic support for my immediate bosses. And not all of them were nice, but I needed their support.
I recall in one company I worked and I had two accountants below me. One was supportive and hence learnt much from me, the other was not quite supportive and always felt sidelined, a fact that he often brought up to my superior.
After I left the company, the supportive junior was promoted to do my work, while the longer serving ever-complaining junior ended up leaving a few years down the line. Learn to make your superior look good in the eyes of his superior — you have everything to gain.
Career visibility is all about leadership, delegation and interdependence
You must learn how to “use” other people as your stepping stone — in essence good leadership. People who insist on doing it themselves will never get promoted because there will be no one to do what they do as well as they do it! Many people try to make themselves indispensable without knowing that the indispensability leads to their career stunting.
Although I made it to the very top of my career in finance, I can confess I have had under me far better financial managers than me. I have used (and continue to use) the principles of good delegation and inter-dependence to lead teams. Blow your own horn.
It is critical that your good work and abilities get noticed. I was recently amazed at the abilities and qualifications of one woman in my office. Had I seen her earlier, I would have given her greater responsibility and a faster career path. She is too modest.
In one of my previous jobs my greatest career break came with my blowing my own horn in a big way. I once wrote a proposal to our overseas head office suggesting a major cost-reduction scheme that would mean relieving my boss and giving me his job among other changes. This proposal was accepted without amendment!
Do not perennially seek authority from your boss to do things that are within your power
Superiors love action oriented people. People who suck up to the boss may temporarily succeed, but on the whole will fail. It may feel like you are doing a good turn, but believe me it is boring and reduces the confidence of your superior. I once had an immediate direct support who would consult me to spend Sh5,000.
He almost brought the company to a standstill with his insistence that as managing director I must approve almost everything. In contrast, I had a departmental manager who walked into my office often having made a decision to spend Sh1 million without consulting me! This manager has huge potential to grow his career and I will not be surprised if one day he makes CEO.
Learn new things. Read widely. Have much general knowledge. The world in my view is led more by the generalists than the specialist. It amazes me how much general knowledge successful people have.
Embrace change. For this generation for example few of you here tonight will make it to the next level if you cannot adopt electronic technology. I tell people that if it were not for my mastery (basic as it is) of modern technology, I could not achieve half of what I do today!
The future belongs to those who embrace change
Many of us are uncomfortable with change. Many of us do not want to pay the price. Three months ago, I attended a two hour class everyday for weeks to improve my skills on Microsoft products. I insisted that 60 of our top managers attend the classes with me. The effects are phenomenal and will be felt even more in future.
Be bold and courageous
Many times we think small of ourselves. We let fear rule our lives, refusing to acknowledge that we are, as human beings powerful beyond measure. Our potential is beyond measure if unlocked.
I recall a recruitment firm advertising for job in a largest and influential company. I took a bold step to apply at a time when it was rumoured that only those who had influence would get the job. I had no influential contacts.
I was shortlisted as an under-dog.
To everybody’s amazement I was appointed to the position! Courage and boldness will take you where others do not dare. In one of my previous jobs I was bold enough to suggest a thinly veiled scheme to the then MD that I wanted his job. He made it clear to me that the possibility was not there.
This forced me to look elsewhere for the growth I was seeking, with great success. There is no substitute for courage and boldness in career growth.
Hard work pays
Hard work is necessary. You must, however, strive to work smarter not necessarily harder. Never let others, particularly your boss, know how hard you work to get the results. This may, among other things, put doubt in his/her mind about your ability to cope at a higher level. Learn and understand the politics of your work environment, but make sure you do not get caught in it.
Make friends with junior staff
It is amazing how much your juniors know that can help you with your visibility! Personal secretaries of your bosses are key allies to your success. For every company I have worked I can call on most of the juniors and staff and they will step out to help.
In one company I worked for, the telephone operator/receptionist almost managed my personal house utilities even long after I left the company. However, never discuss your boss or the work environment with them. Just be friendly with and value them — the results will amaze you.
Leadership belongs to those who do the extra mile
Ordinary people do not spend much time on the extra mile. But whoever said you were ordinary? Finally, promise yourself that in the next few months you will practice some of these things. I promise you that you will not regret it. You will be amazed at what it will bring your way.
Kimani is the CEO, Sameer Africa.