If you hope to be a star in your company and a standout in your field, you must, at times, make your own set of rules for what you’re doing. You must listen to what they tell you to do and then you must twist it, toss it, or turn it upside down so that the result is brilliantly bold and different.
Keep your eye on the bottom line.
Do not proceed with your rule-breaking idea unless it directly or indirectly makes money for your company, OR saves money for your company. Now, that seems pretty obvious, but good girls have a tendency to gravitate toward earnest projects that sound noble on paper and involve lots of scurrying around, but ultimately don’t help the bottom line.
Always, always dress for the job you aspire to.
Don’t worry if a few of your co-workers give you a who-does-she-think-she-is? look when you walk in wearing a $400 suit that you spent your last dime on. The people making the decisions will be impressed. And gutsiness counts. Wear the clothes and accessories with the maximum style you can get away with in your company and field. Make people notice and remember you.
Share the glory.
It’s just a fact of life that many of your peers and even some of your subordinates are not going to be overly pleased to see you stepping boldly into the limelight. However, if you demonstrate that you are taking them on the train with you by including them in your projects, you have a chance that they will support your efforts rather than hurt them.
Good girls work too hard simply because they think they ought to.
Concentrate only on what’s essential. The warning sign that you’re working longer than you should on projects: You frequently hear yourself say:
- “I’m putting the finishing touches on it. “
- “I want to get it just right.”
- “This is going to be really comprehensive.”
Focus on one clear goal or mission.
This is hard for a good girl. She’s been programmed to “do it all,” to try to please everybody. If you’ve got your head lowered and your nose close to the grindstone, where you focus on the minutiae of every day, there’s less chance you’ll be hit by one of the SCUDs whizzing by. It feels safer that way. And yet that’s an illusion. Without a goal, you won’t know where you’re going.
Give away anything you possibly can that doesn’t necessitate your expertise and judgment. Here are my two strategies for avoiding a negative reaction from those “dumped” on:
- Always tell a subordinate that you have something for him to do rather than ask him if he can take it on. Don’t give him wiggle room to get out of it.
- Whenever possible, package the task so that it seems critical or, even better, like a delicious opportunity.
Do something that doesn’t appear anywhere in your job description.
There was a time when getting promoted was a result of doing a fabulous job within the framework you’d been given. But those were in fatter years. Now, you must do that just to keep your job. To move up, you have to take on some of your boss’s responsibilities or contribute something of value that may not have been requested of you but is nonetheless viewed as beneficial to the company.
Quick, do something.
One trap many managers and executives fall into is to assume that their first step should be big and bold—and that only slows down their pace. (I’m convinced good girls use this as an excuse for stalling.) You should get off the ground with a small but convincing success. In other words, think big but start small.
First and foremost.
Never present your million-dollar ideas at group brainstorming meetings. It’s too easy for people to forget where they came from. You should present them in writing to your boss or in person with written back-up, so there’s always a paper trail.
When in doubt ...
No matter how good your vision is, there will be times when you question it. If your doubts seem justified, there is only one step to take: Go back to the homework phase, exploring strengths and weaknesses. Get quality input—and be willing to listen to what people say. What you shouldn’t do is share your raw doubts with anyone you work with. Certainly not your boss and not even your most-trusted number two person. You can indicate that you’re doing some fact-finding, but never show that you’re worried about the course you’ve set.
Antidote to procrastination: savor the pleasure of not being late.
I’ve learned to conjure up the amazing feeling of serenity and relief that comes from finishing a job before deadline. I let myself think of how good I will feel if I get an early start—and how pathetically miserable I’ll be if I don’t. It’s a little behavior modification in the hand of an amateur but it works beautifully.
Make time for what matters most.
The only way you can guarantee that your big goal time is not taken from you is to make it unassailable. What I do is close my door for an hour a day (and before I had a door I actually used to find quiet places in the building or even the cafeteria). A few words of caution, however:
- Your closed-door (or half-closed door) time should never be first thing in the morning.
- It should be roughly the same time every day so people come to recognize it for what it is.
- It shouldn’t be too long (about an hour is good).
- Your boss has to be comfortable with it.
Answer this question: Does your boss’s boss know who you are?
If you’re not known among those in power positions on the next level (or levels) of your company, you’re not doing enough to network and/or highlight your accomplishments.
Create “face time.”
Make your presence known, let your boss in on what’s happening, stick your head in her door just to let her see that you’re “back,” send along thought-provoking articles relating to the business with “Thought you’d be interested” messages.
A good girl worries that if she isn’t real nice, she’ll be viewed as too tough.
And mean, perhaps even bitchy. Be fair, but ultimately do what you want, based on what you think is best. A few pointers:
- Create house rules. People like order.
- Don’t always aim for consensus. If you try to make everybody happy, you will end up diluting the idea or throwing it out.
- Sound firm. Say, “Please get it to me by 9:00 A.M. Monday” rather than “It would be great if you could get it to me Monday.”
Call a turnaround a turnaround.
Studies show that women tend to attribute their success to outside forces, and if you don’t, other people will be quick to do that for you. To prevent this, you can frame the turnaround in people’s minds. Send out memos that keep people posted on the changes and their impact. When you talk to co-workers, use phrases like, “Thanks to our turnaround, we can . . . “ and let the numbers get out there, too. If there’s an 11 percent increase in customer sales, let everyone know.
Always ask for more—even if they say your number.
Good girls worry that if they ask for more, they’ll damage the rapport and trust that’s been established. But, “they” always have more than the number they give. A study we mentioned in Working Woman found that 80 percent of the time those who asked for a bigger raise got it. When you do ask for more, avoid pleading phrases like “I really need . . . “ or demanding ones like “You have to give me . . . “ “I’m looking for” is a nice neutral statement.
They want to but they can’t.
In many instances you will be told no, not because you don’t deserve it, but because outside forces are tying your boss’s hands. Try this: the broken record technique. The basic idea is to repeat your request, over and over, like a broken record, without ever changing your tone so that your emotions don’t appear to be escalating. “I understand that there are budget restraints and I know how much pressure we’re all under, but I hope my efforts can be rewarded.”
Just because no one has grabbed something, don't assume it’s not yours for the taking.
If there’s an empty seat next to the big cheese at a meeting and no one is sitting there, go ahead, help yourself.
Office saboteurs: You must do something.
When you allow someone to get away with bad behavior, you give them permission to do it again. The best way to start, actually, is to get the word confrontation out of your brain. Yes, you want to confront the situation, but with the individual involved (not with human resources, not with your boss, or you’re labeled a troublemaker), You ideally want to have not a confrontation but a conversation. You want to discuss the problem in a reasonable way and find a resolution. One way to start the conversation is, “I’m a little confused. Can you clear this up for me?” Confusion shows concern, but doesn’t sound accusatory.
A gutsy girl knows that one of the best shortcuts is to do two things simultaneously.
Whereas a good girl wrestles with the question, “Should I look for a new job or should I try to get more responsibility in this one?” a gutsy girl pursues both courses of action simultaneously and takes the first prize she gets.
About the Author
Kate White, author of the Business Week bestseller Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitanand former editor-in-chief of Child, Working Woman and Redbook.
Excerpts with the author’s permission from Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do.
For additional information, see www.katewhite.com.