Dare to be the best – A recipe for success

In this article..
Escape the confines of your role
Love what you do
Find out what you do well
Find your place in the team
Balance the big picture and details
Show initiative
Own your work
Let others own their work
It is ok to fail
Help others grow
Challenge the status-quo
Ask questions – be a sponge
Don’t let your past haunt you
Be confident in your abilities

Please note that these are based on my experiences. There are not in any particular order and I might add to this over time. Every person is different and I expect each person to understand and absorb the content differently. Hopefully, these will help you be at your best.

Note: As you read this, if at any time you start thinking “this is not possible in my world”, you are missing the point of this article.

Escape the confines of your role
Most people, once they get into a role, stick to the tasks defined for that role. This might be by choice or by the work environment that they are in. For instance, you might be in an environment that discourages exploring anything outside of their individual role. There might be people around you that tell you not to stick your neck out, to just do your job and go home.

Do not listen to them. Be curious, stretch your role and challenge it. I always take up tasks that are not in my defined role. Try it, you will find it refreshing.

One thing that you probably have noticed is that job postings always ask for n years of experience doing specific tasks. What is the point of just doing the things you already know and have done a million times? Look for things that you have not done before. You will learn new things and the role also gets a new perspective.

Love what you do
I should probably say “Do what you love”. This might sound like a cliche. But it is true. It really helps being in a field that you love. Show enthusiasm for your work. It rubs off on people. You do not have to change the world, just the world of people around you. I am in the security field by choice and I spend a lot of time learning about it, thinking about it, talking about it. You are going to run into problems and face frustrations on a daily basis, just as you will find success and accomplish something. Loving what you do (or doing what you love) will keep you on the positive side.

Find out what you do well
Everyone has something that (s)he is good at. You should introspect honestly, but find out what your strengths are. And play to your strengths.

You also need to know what you are not good at. Then you should try and realign what you do with your strengths. Try to improve your weak areas, but do not obsess over them.

I frequently work with another manager, where we get in a room and tackle the issues that we both have. I come up with tons of ideas, some of which are unorthodox or even crazy, and he keeps me on planet earth. We both have our strengths and weaknesses, but what we accomplish working together is a lot greater than what we can accomplish individually. Working closely with someone (it can be more than one) who has different strengths than you can help the both of you grow and add a bigger punch to your contributions at work.

Find your place in the team
In most organizations, you will be given objectives and be told what is expected of you. However, remember the first point I made about escaping the confines of your role. You need to spend a little time understanding what role you need to perform. Try and understand your team members’ strengths and weaknesses (but first remember the previous point about your own strengths and weaknesses). See where you can add value. Talk to your manager and get his/her support and do your best to fill the gaps and/or add value.

Balance the big picture and details
You need to get the right balance between the big picture and the details that make up the big picture. Almost every job description requires “Attention to detail” or “Detail Oriented” (for that matter a lot of resumes state that too). It is very easy for people to get bogged down by minute detail and not move forward at all. You have to always keep an eye on the final objective.

This is not to say that you should not bother with details. You need to be aware of details and how they can affect the bigger goals. But as you go higher in your roles you need to focus on the bigger picture more and learn to delegate the details to the right people. Otherwise, you will end up spinning your wheels and not getting much done. For people who point to Steve Jobs being very concerned with a color in someone’s logo, remember that he had an army of people taking care of other important details.

Show initiative
You should actively try to find solutions to problems. When I started at one organization, everyone was upset that management was not approving people to go on training courses. My response was to create our own training. The team was pretty technical and I had people volunteer to research a relevant topic and do a presentation to everyone else on the team every week. And just like that, we had a training program.

At another time, the process we were following did not make sense and everyone including the clients were complaining. I just decided to come up with a new process, got buy-in from the clients. Once the clients were happy, management fell in line and I implemented the new process. Don’t wait for someone else to come up with a solution. Propose one yourself.

Own your work
Take responsibility for your work, especially when it is not done well. People always find ways to shove accountability on to others. If something that you were supposed to do did not turn out right, take responsibility for it. Analyze it, learn what you did not do well, how you can do it better next time and move on.

Due to the fact that I try to always go outside of my role, I tend to get in situations where I am doing things that are not always familiar to me. This means, sometimes, that my efforts do not always result in the greatest success (meaning, I screw up). Regardless of whether it is your role or not, once you have taken up a task, own it and take responsibility for it, however it turns out.

A tip: Get feedback from others frequently, especially for things that you are not familiar with. This way, the mistakes that you make can be caught early and you can correct them. If you go away and do your thing for 6 months without any feedback, the chances are that the mistakes are a lot bigger and cannot be undone easily. At the very least, you have wasted a lot of time. I am talking Agile principles, for people who do not recognize it.

Let others own their work
This is something that took me a while to realize. If you are depending on someone else to do something, make sure they understand your expectations. This is especially true if that someone is working for you. Make sure that they know what to deliver and the time-line that they should deliver in. Hold them accountable for their commitments. I have sometimes been scared to do this, especially if my deliverable depended on someone else’s. But once you set an example with your own work and you set the proper expectations, my experience is that people usually deliver.

One thing that might help is that when you are expecting a deliverable from someone, make sure you agree on a specific deadline. I have been in meetings where everyone says “I shall have it to you next week”. The week has 7 days (well, 5 working days if you don’t work on weekends) and it could be Monday or Friday. I always set a date and time so there is no confusion. Again, with more frequent feedback cycles, you ensure that you get what you need.

It is ok to fail
Not everything you do will be a success. But you can increase the chances of success by planning for it. Understand management priorities and pain points. Then make a compelling case. When I come up with ideas, I run it by many people, asking them specifically why it will not work. This exposes weaknesses that I need to address and has the advantage of having been already examined critically by the time I present it to key stakeholders.

In spite of this, many things you want to do may fall by the way side for various reasons. Some of them will die, but some of them may get resurrected when the time is right. And when that time comes, you will be better prepared to forge ahead due to the preparatory work that you have already done.

Help others grow
This might sound like another cliche. But this does not have to be an official role. Just help someone prioritize their tasks, nudge them to set deadlines and complete their tasks on time, help them with something they are finding difficult to do. There are a lot of small ways you can help someone grow in their role. They do not even have to know you are doing it.

Challenge the status-quo
Most organizations do things in a certain way, not because it is optimal, but because that is the way they have been doing it for years. The process remains the same even if the original reasons for it have changed. How many times have you run into a process that just does not make sense? Try to learn and understand the intent, but do not be afraid to challenge the process if it is not aligned with the intent. There will be people around you that will say “this is the way things work here”. Do not listen to them.

Ask questions – be a sponge
One of the most important things people have a problem with is to admit that they do not know something. Do not be afraid of what you do not know. Learn it, if required. No one in this world can know everything. When you do not know something, try and find out as much as you can about the subject. Many times, I have made significant contributions because I acknowledged my ignorance and started asking questions. You might sometimes find that people you thought knew about the subject did not have a very good understand themselves.

Be open to learning. You learn and you also facilitate others’ learning when you ask questions. I also want to pass along something I was told: “it is not what you know that matters, it is how you think”. With the right approach, you can learn and do anything, but you need to know to ask the questions.

Don’t let your past haunt you
Everyone makes mistakes, in personal life and at work. You might have been fired from a position because you screwed up, you may have said something that became a negative meme on the internet, you may yourself recognize how your negative traits impeded you in the past. If you dwell on them, you are not going to move forward much. Understand your mistakes, see what you can do to fix them and try to improve. Do not let the past weigh you down. Adjust your approach and move forward.

Be confident in your abilities
I know this may sound arrogant, but “Don’t just think you can. Know that you can” (reference to The Matrix). Once you have honestly identified your strengths, you have asked the questions and understood the situation, you have thought up an idea or plan, go ahead at full clip. You do need to get buy-in from the stakeholders. You will need to make your case in a way that appeals to them. If it is a new role, be confident that you can deliver in that role. Do not let others convince you that you are not yet ready.

Remember this quote from Richard Branson:

If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!

Another one that is very close to me:

The cream always rises to the top!