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Fearfulness is the Symptom -- Taking Action is the Cure

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As the differences between most candidates are very small, judges hunt for anything that makes a person really special or anything that could disqualify someone. That's why your #1 job is to be more notable than anyone else. How might you do that?

First, read, ask, and listen so you have a good idea of the direction your field is more likely to take in the near future and the implications of that for your company's future growth and investment. Become an expert in those areas through school, a new job, or projects at work.

Increase your value to management: by communicating the results of your research; by utilizing your new expertise; by demonstrating your entrepreneurial go-getting and collaborative spirit; by leading effective change efforts; and by demonstrating the depth and integrity of your commitment and engagement to the organization and its' work.

Perhaps the most important advice about becoming invaluable is, do not accept a job that doesn't contribute to the core business or to its' profitability if it's a for-profit organization.

The reason why staff functions are often seen as necessary but are held in low esteem, is staff is a help to - but not a direct contributor to - the business of the business and its success. If, for example, you are a trainer in a manufacturing company, you are seen as staff and a cost. On the other hand, if you are a trainer in a business that develops, sells and offers training, you are part of the core business and a potential profit center. There is a world of difference in these seemingly similar situations.

Become visible to the decision-makers

Many years ago a writer and I became good enough friends so we exchanged drafts of manuscripts with each other. He was writing a novel and I thought it was already pretty good, except for two chapters that I thought slowed the action way too much. Tell me, I asked, what are these chapters about and why did you go into so much detail about the relationship of your primary character and this other guy. Judy, he wrote back, those pages are all about the hero and his mentor. That had never occurred to me because in those days there were no mentors (or coaches or supporters) for women.

Some time after that, I was an Associate Dean at the University of Michigan and the Dean, Billy Frye, became my informal mentor. What an extraordinary experience that turned out to be! He was a model of a modern leader, a man who listened as well as he told, and I tried to emulate his style. He encouraged me to be a leader of innovation and in doing that I discovered that just because I had access to him, every door was now open to me. He taught me to be shrewd as well as smart because from him I learned about strategy, how to gain and use power. He was my teacher, my supporter, and a very good friend. Relationships at work don't get better than that.

The best relationships involve mutual respect and trust as well as liking and ease. While I was overwhelmed by Billy's kindness to me he assured me that he was learning from me while I was learning from him. We had worked together for a year before he became my mentor and we both knew we could trust each other, that in this relationship it was very easy to be truthful, and we were both deeply committed to the university and its' mission.

70 percent of the Fortune 500 companies have formal mentoring programs as well as training and coaching. I don't know if those relationships are as effective as an informal mentoring arrangement that develops naturally as people work together, but they are certainly assets in terms of improving yourself and becoming visible to those who make decisions about you. Even in a meritocracy, a really big asset is a boss who blocks and tackles...and toots your horn.

Each time you choose to step beyond your fear, you are actively reducing the control of fear in your life.


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Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D., is a highly regarded speaker, consultant, researcher, and writer on psychological aspects of people at work. For more than two decades, she has combined cutting-edge psychological research with practical business (more...)
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