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Getting Ahead in Business – The 10 Most Valuable Lessons I Have Learned Over My Career

By : Ziad K. Abdelnour | 2 November 2015
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I thought of sharing these nuggets of wisdom with all of our fans at Blackhawk hoping that one day it will make a difference in the lives of many.

I can only imagine how going up the corporate ladder or building one’s own company is challenging these days – and this to say the least.

Every time you hit a wall, it seems that you can do nothing right. But I just want you to understand that top performers don’t think like this. They take everything they go through (good and bad times) as a learning experience. From rejection and failures, you’ll only get better, the moment you choose to move on.

And this applies especially when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone, you’ll face many roadblocks. But that is what you should aim for, because without it being uncomfortable, or as some say unfamiliar, you will never grow.

Just as all companies focus on growth, I’ve learned that the best asset to put effort in is my personal growth. Create your professional career in such a way that it is helping you grow the most.

So without further delays, here are my thoughts…..

1. Business is very personal.

It is indeed and if you don’t already know this, you are going nowhere.

Motivation comes from working on things we care about, but it also comes from working with people we care about, and in order to care about someone you have to know them. You have to know what they love and hate, what they feel–not just what they think. If you want to win hearts and minds, you have to lead with your heart as well as your mind. I don’t believe we have a professional self from Mondays through Fridays and a real self the rest of the time. That kind of division probably never worked, but in today’s world it makes even less sense… It is all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.

2. Your personal brand is all that you are building.

Salary, title, company brand all are irrelevant only thing that matters is ‘what do you stand for’ and ‘what can you deliver’. With that in mind, always build deep capacity and good reputation by ‘under promising and over delivering’. Working with you should be an absolute joy for clients and seniors alike.

3. Focus on high-leverage activities.

Leverage is defined as the amount of output or impact produced per unit of time spent because at some point, you’ll realize that there’s more work to be done than you have time available, and you’ll need to prioritize what to get done. Leverage should be the central, guiding metric that helps you determine where to focus your time.

Another rule of thumb for thinking about leverage is to consider the commonly mentioned Pareto principle or the 80-20 rule — the idea that 80% of the contributions or impact come from 20% of the effort. That 20% of work consists of the highest leverage activities. By definition, your leverage, and hence productivity, can be increased in three ways:
• By reducing the time it takes to complete a certain activity.
• By increasing the impact of a particular activity.
• By shifting to higher leverage activities.

4. Trust your gut but always Investigate your Intuition.

Always, always trust your gut when evaluating how you present yourself and correspond with others. If you’re debating whether or not to wear a tie to an event, wear the tie. If you have a feeling that the e-mail you drafted is too long and detailed, cut it down. And, by all means, treat everyone politely and professionally, from the janitor to the CEO.

On the other hand and maybe more importantly, never discount other people’s input. My best decisions throughout my career have come at the hands of my intuition. But the catch is that you can’t just go off running in the direction of anything that appears like a great idea at first. Your gut will point you in the right direction, from there it’s up to you to dig deeper, ask why, talk to your tribe, and plan. Intuition exists to alert us to risk and opportunity. What we do with this information, like what we do with more rational inputs, is the difference-maker.

5. Always remember that people buy what they think they need, not what you think they need.

When I got started in business, it was because I saw struggling people and companies I knew I could help. It took me a long time to learn my ability to help didn’t matter. It’s sort of like selling kicks in the ass: we all know people who need them, but those people are almost never the ones who would pay for my services.

The approach I eventually learned was to figure out what the client perceived as their biggest problem and then solve that in a way that played to my strengths, built confidence, and got them closer to seeing the problems that I saw. This applies to pretty much every human relationship: to work effectively with others, you need to understand their perspective of their wants and needs.

6. Surround Yourself with Smarter People

To qualify this further, once I’ve accepted that I might not be the best at something, that maybe there are better options or that I might be missing something, my career simply took off like a rocket.
I was able to open up to new ways of doing things, become a better listener and by surrounding myself with smarter people than me, things just started happening in a big way.

At the end of the day, I realized that it’s not who leads the race to success but the reasons and motives others follow along. Life today is shorter than yesterday. Go out, seek people which could complement your passion, make them feel part of that goal/vision and you’re on your way to great times. Most importantly, never think you’re the smartest person in the room….ever.

7. Earn People’s Respect starting with your peers

Never underestimate the relationships that you build with your peers. You may think that everyone will naturally support what you do and agree with what you say. Actually it is the opposite. Smart people realize that in order to get to the top of the ladder and stay there, you will need to prove yourself not just as a valuable member of your department (or company for that matter), but to be one that others can feel comfortable working with. In most companies, you will be given a honeymoon period where you are given time to get acclimated, but don’t assume that it means people will overlook your mistakes or accept you for who you are – remember they are your colleagues, not your family or friends.

This is especially true in higher level CEO type roles since you are expected to have got there not simply because of talent, but because you were able to convince the powers that be that you are worthy of that position. Part of that means that your colleagues have faith not just in your ability to execute, but more importantly that you are “on their side” when needed. If you can’t build those relationships, you can be the smartest person in the room, but unless you are the undisputed authority in your given field (and even sometimes even when you are), you will be shown the door as fast as you joined the company.

8. Never ever be ashamed of asking questions.

Irrespective of your role, never be ashamed of asking basic questions. Make sure you spend some time to find it yourself and then ask if that doesn’t help. Prior R&D will help you more around the questions and will help you ask the right questions.

9. Never lower your standards.

You will work with people who don’t care as much about their work as you do. That’s not an excuse to start doing a worse job, if anything it’s a good reason to redouble your efforts.

10. Take care of your health, your relationships, your career, your (ongoing) education, and your integrity.

They are hard to recover when lost. When a manager or company tells you that the project in front of you is more important than any of these, it’s almost certainly not the case, and you are a fool for making these kinds of sacrifices to support someone else’s vision or career.

Now that you know the basics, go and rock the world….

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