The One Thing You Should Do to Get Ahead at Work
Whether you’re starting a new job, looking to move up in your current job, or trying to survive layoffs, I have a valuable tip that is sure to help you achieve your goal. It’s not pretty, it’s not glamorous, but it is effective and could save your job.
What’s the tip? You need to take ownership.
It’s a very simple concept, but it presents a huge opportunity that most people miss.
So what does it entail? Taking ownership means standing up and announcing that you are responsible for executing a particular task or project. Sometimes taking ownership will just mean being accountable for a project within your job description. In that case, taking ownership isn’t terribly remarkable.
But there are other times when taking ownership means doing things outside of your job description. In fact, it means doing the stuff no one else wants to do. Think: filing, building proposals, editing, cold calling. I’m sure you know what I mean.
Taking ownership also means making an active and enthusiastic commitment. If you begrudgingly take on a task only because you have to, you’re not making much of an impression.
Why should you take ownership?
Basically, when you take ownership of a task or project, you’re telling whoever is in charge, “Don’t worry, I got this.” You’re taking something off their plate and putting it on yours. That is any busy person’s fantasy. If there’s a difficult or unpleasant task, then the person in charge probably isn’t keen on doing it personally and is also dreading the task of finding someone else to do it. It also adds one more difficult thing to his or her rapidly growing to-do list. When you stand up and say, “I’ll do it, no problem,” you’ve just killed some major anxiety. Everyone loves an anxiety killer.
Think about it. Have you ever been in a meeting or on a conference call where everyone is trying to dodge a task? Aside from the time it wastes, it’s just awkward as hell! Or have you ever seen people dart around as they try to avoid a task, only to have someone volunteer to do it? The relief in the room is palpable. It’s like freakin’ Spiderman came in and saved the day.
There’s more to taking ownership than just being a people-pleaser, though many people simply take issue with that aspect and don’t want to be seen as the office suck-up. Yes, there is a certain degree of people-pleasing when you take ownership of annoying, menial tasks. But you’re also becoming the go-to person. You’re establishing your reputation as the problem solver. You’re becoming the one your boss associates with getting things done, with control, and with solutions. You own those tasks, so the boss doesn’t have to worry about them. In other words, taking ownership makes you a leader.
If layoffs come around, who do you think your boss will let go? The person who solved problems time and again, or the one who sat there looking at his shoes while difficult tasks needed to be done?
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Thanks, Tim. Sounds like a great way to become the office bitch.” And you might be right. This method will certainly not lead to more free time and it’s not a glamorous way of getting ahead either. But it will help you differentiate yourself from the rest of the non-doers. You’re becoming the person your boss feels comfortable going to, and once that happens, he or she is much more likely to feel comfortable going to you with other, more meaningful tasks. Plus, if you’ve done your share of grunt work, you’ll feel more comfortable asking the boss to be included on the more desirable, meaningful projects.
This is especially true in a small business setting. I worked for a communications firm in Washington, D.C. (informational interviews work!) for a few years and saw this first hand. My boss, the owner, didn’t have time for pettiness or egos. He needed people to help out across the board – from making coffee to filing and making cold calls. If you were “above” that kind of thing, you just looked like a jerk who wouldn’t help. The office manager, as she became known after taking ownership of everything she could, was one of the most valued people in the company. She knew everything about the office, the clients, and the business in general. She made herself indispensable. Had she been petty and not confident enough in her other work (the stuff she was actually hired to do), there’s no way she would have stood out in the same fashion.
Taking ownership of menial or annoying tasks doesn’t diminish your intelligence or your worth at a company. If it does, I bet there are other reasons at play. Taking on more tasks differentiates you from other workers and forces you to keep learning new things. Plus, the more projects you take on, the more likely it is for you to carve out a niche within the company.
Doing the tasks that no one else wants to do makes you look good, it diversifies what you do and it creates job security. Don’t let pettiness stand in the way of all that good stuff.
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