8 Critical Factors for Career Success

8 Critical Factors for Career Success

On any given day in your work life, there’s a lot to focus on. Clients, meetings, deadlines, endless zoom meetings, stress and anxiety, not to mention your boss, your team and just when do you get that coffee break?! It can be pretty overwhelming.

Not to mention that right now, things in the world are more than a little out of control, and you’re probably feeling the brunt of that in some small or large way. You may be still working from home or transitioning back to the office, perhaps you want to change jobs, are dealing with health challenges or feeling isolated and alone. You may even be feeling completely stuck with your career plans and thinking what’s the point anyway?! Stay with me here, because I’m going to craft a roadmap of the key things that you need to be focusing on – especially in these challenging times.

Even in ‘normal times’ our research shows that 70% of women don’t have a career plan, and more than 48% of women are completely winging it when it comes to what’s next. Not only that, more than 70% of women are really struggling with their health and wellbeing, and just plain forget about any semblance of work life balance. They are pretty daunting statistics.

So let’s take a step back and get a broader perspective. When we run on autopilot, focusing on the urgent, we can lose sight of the important things we would be well served to think about. Here are eight core ideas to ponder that fall into that important category, and that are critical for building a career that matters.

1. GETTING CLEAR ON YOUR VISION AND PURPOSE

Ok so this is a big one to start with, we grant you that. But if we know that the career plan scantly gets a look in, it’s even worse for the life vision. Spend some time really thinking about what you want your life to look like. Reflect on your passions, relationships, spiritual life, creativity, community, leisure time, study and yes, your career – how does it all fit together in a way that works? We often leave the parts of our life behind that we really want, just because we are too busy to consciously fit them in and make them matter.

And speaking of what matters, to have a career that matters, you have to be working on purpose. Purposeful work is meaningful work. Research reported in the Harvard Business Review shows that nine out of ten people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work. Think about that in the context of your career.

When you’re working on purpose, you are doing work that you feel called to do. It’s work that even if nobody paid you to do it, you would still get up every morning and get to it. Purposeful work becomes involuntary, and you are engaged and fulfilled when you are doing it. Is this what your work looks like for you? Where is the meaning in what you do every day? Have a think about where the meaning and purpose sits in your life.

Try this:

Start creating your life vision. Grab your notebook and make a list of all the things you would love to have in your life. Think about your wellbeing, purposeful work, creativity, family, social time, community, hobbies, spiritual life and more. Write a stream of consciousness list without editing yourself. Try and create your ideal list of things you want to include in your life, and write out an ideal day and week in your life. Play with this over time, tune into how you feel and craft and re-craft the vision until it feels ideal. Then pick one small area and go about bringing it to life.

2. BUILDING RADICAL CONFIDENCE

We hear all the time how women need to build their confidence at work. It is undeniable that for many women, self-doubt, self-criticism, an overly tuned antennae set to ‘what will they think of me’ or being hard wired to the people pleaser channel, can be career limiting and stop us from playing as big as we would like to.

You need to know that confidence isn’t a personality trait, it’s a skill that you build. And there’s nothing wrong with you, you just don’t have the tools yet. Unpack the stories you are telling yourself about what you can and can’t do and what beliefs may be stopping you from taking big leaps forward (or even more every day actions like raising your ideas in meeting). Using the simple question ‘Is that true?’ when you hear those stories surfacing can be enough to interrupt your cognitive distortions, start to tame your inner critic, and reframe your less than helpful stories into ones that help you take action.

Radical confidence, the type of confidence you have no matter what is going on around you, is also about learning to use and play to your strengths. We recommend you take the free character strengths survey at the VIA Institute and watch how your levels of engagement, productivity, health and happiness skyrocket when you start to use your strengths at work and play each day. You won’t believe it until you try it, but trust us, we’ve seen it with thousands of people over the past decade. Go try it for yourself.

Try this:

Download our free Taming Your Inner Critic guide and get the tools to understand what is really going on for you when your confidence is lacking. In this guide we teach you what confidence really is, how to understand and manage your inner critic, what to do with your imposter syndrome thoughts (we all have them, don’t worry), and the simple 3 part process to manage your stories and get into action.

3. EVOLVING YOUR CAREER

The days of having a rigid five-year career plan are over. In the incredibly fast paced world we’re living in with so much change, a five-year plan is too great a period for concrete planning. But having a directional vision for where you want to head and knowing where you are currently will set you up for success. It’s also important to think about where you’re at on your career mastery curve, and how this factors in to your plan for what’s next (we have a whole module on this in the Women Rising program).

You’ll also want to think about your personal brand, which is about who you are, what you do and how you do it. Think about what you want to be known for. If you could be known for something that really tapped into your passion and purpose, used your strengths and your core areas of expertise, what would that be?

Once you know where you want to go, where you’re currently at and what you want to be known for, consider the relationships you can cultivate with mentors and sponsors to help you on your path.

Mentors are people you go to for advice, skills sharing, knowledge transfer and trouble-shooting. It could be that you need support with office politics, work life balance, moving from sales to marketing, or a transition into an executive role. Seeking advice from someone you respect and who has gone before you can help fast track your success. Sponsors are quite different. They are your advocates. They speak about you when you’re not in the room, help you get those hot projects or big jobs, and help you fulfil your career plans. But it’s a two-way street. A sponsor puts their reputation on the line by vouching for you, so you have to deliver. Sponsors are looking, in most cases, to increase their brand, power and position through the leverage that sponsoring you into a role or project will bring (not always, but often).

Identify who may be a mentor and who may be a sponsor worth approaching. And be really clear on what you want to ask for, and what you can provide in return.

Try this:

If you are ready to evolve your career and committed to creating a purposeful future, we highly recommend that you join the Women Rising program, a holistic personal and professional development journey that thousands of women call life changing. It will give you the tools to thrive in your career and life.

4. BEING AN AUTHENTIC LEADER

Imagine if we could redefine leadership to truly be more inclusive. Imagine if people - especially women - were enabled and encouraged to embrace the philosophy that who you are is how you lead and all leadership styles are welcomed and celebrated?

When we think about power we often think of the masculine version of power, which is what society, organisational structures and governments, certainly in the West, are largely based on. We look at ‘successful’ work and leadership models and they are still largely defined by men, for men. Models of success based on masculine traits as defined by research like driven, ambitious, dominant, aggressive, competitive, assertive. Feminine traits on the other hand have been identified globally as traits such as trustworthy, kind, giving, passionate, honest, generous, collaborative, authentic and intuitive.

Now these are not gendered. This is really important. Both men and women (all genders) have access to feminine and masculine traits, of course. In the workplace however, and perhaps in your career if you look at it closely, we see a large dominance of the masculine. Yes it’s changing, yes there is a feminine rising in the world today, but we are not there yet. And it all impacts how we show up as women, and what we believe will happen when show our authentic selves.

So what can you do? First be honest about where you are. Are you balanced in how you are showing up? Do you feel authentic going through your day? Are you more in your drive and strive energy than your collaborative and nurturing energy? How do you get things done? By being dominant and aggressive? Or through creativity and kindness? Power comes in all forms. It’s time we recognise that not everyone fits the current model, and that indeed it’s time to crack it wide open and create a new one.

Try this:

Think about how authentic you feel at work each day. Be really honest. Are you putting on a cloak and mask to get through the day that reflects how you think you are supposed to behave? Or are you being yourself? When you look at your own leadership style and the way you show up each day, which traits are you leading with? What is the balance of your masculine and feminine traits? Is this mix working well for you, or do you need to dial up/dial down certain traits and values? Some thoughts to consider.

5. INCREASING YOUR INFLUENCE AND IMPACT

One of the aspects we don’t talk about enough in women’s careers is learning how to build influence and increase your impact. Having influence in the workplace has “clear value,” says Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You, in the Harvard Business Review. “You get more done and you advance the projects you care about and are responsible for,” which means “you’re more likely to be noticed, get promoted, and receive raises.”

Some of the ways we help women focus on building influence in our Women Rising journey include:

  • Building executive presence. You may have been told as you progress up the ladder that you need to develop your ‘executive presence.’ It’s about inspiring confidence in other people, and having them believe that you are capable, committed and will deliver. We build it through using our strengths, building relationships, understanding power dynamics and building our inner confidence.
  • Communicating with power. We build our influence through the way we communicate, and with the power inherent in our communication style and message. There are a lot of ways we diminish our message and our voice. Using words such as ‘just’ and ‘sorry’ to preface delivery of a message are one example. Become conscious of your language and how it either enhances or diminishes your communicating power.
  • Building relationships. It’s all too easy in our busy working lives to focus on getting the job done at the expense of everything else. Relationships often get looked over while we focus on the to-do list. You don't have influence without positive, robust relationships, unless you are in a position of power (and even then it can be limited). Understand your stakeholders, spend time cultivating connections and invest in your relationships as much as you do as getting the job done.

Try this:

Think about where you would place yourself on an influence and impact scale. 0 is where you find yourself having little influence and impact, and 10 is that you have all you need to excel in your career and get the next role you really want. In the three areas outlined above, what is one thing you could focus on to increase both areas – influence and impact – so that you can have greater success and fulfillment at work? And think about what you actually need for the next step in your career, not just where you’re at now.

6. CREATING INTENTIONAL WELLBEING 

Wellbeing at its essence is our ability to feel good and to function effectively. And it’s what gives us the resources to navigate the highs and lows that everyone experiences in both our professional lives and our personal lives.

From a work perspective, people who thrive at work and have high levels of wellbeing have been found to be six times more engaged, more than 100% less likely to burn out, are almost 30% more productive, 45% more likely to be satisfied in their job, and 32% less likely to quit.

So if we know we want to create high levels of wellbeing, how exactly do we go about doing that? To begin with, it’s important to look at 4 different aspects of wellbeing - your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Physical wellbeing - there are 4 foundational components of physical wellbeing - sleep, nurture, move and restore. If you want to feel physically well, some helpful metrics to guide you are making sure you’re getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, eating meals that fuel you, nourish you and leave you feeling well, exercising 5 times a week for 30 minutes and taking mini moments every day to restore your energy with things that relax you.

Mental wellbeing - mindfulness and meditation are two of the greatest tools we have to manage our mental wellbeing. Mindfulness helps you to be mentally attuned to the situation. It’s about pausing and being present in the moment and being open and curious. We can practice mindfulness through our everyday activities, like eating, walking around the office, making a cup of tea, listening in a meeting. A great way to think about meditation is that we are in mental training. We are training our brains to focus. We are practicing by focusing our attention on something in particular. We can meditate sitting down, walking or doing things like drawing - anything that brings us into a focused state of concentration.

Emotional wellbeing - for positive emotional energy, one of the best indicators of our emotional state is the frequency of positive emotions versus negative emotions. There’s been significant discussion on the research here, but what we’re aiming to achieve for our goal of emotional thriving, is three positive emotions to one negative emotion. Think about these simple questions - how often are you having positive emotions in your day? How often are you having negative emotions in your day? And is that the right ratio for optimal thriving and flourishing?

Spiritual wellbeing - The core aspects of spiritual wellbeing and connection are aligning with your purpose, living your values, building positive relationships, serving other people and connecting to something greater than yourself. These are such important sources of fuel and energy in our lives, and yet our spiritual wellbeing is often one that gets left off altogether, particularly in a work context. How and when are you spending time and energy connecting to these aspects to fuel your spiritual wellbeing?

Try this:

Reflect on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and choose which of these aspects needs a little more love at the moment. Do you need to create a nurturing evening routine to make sure you get enough sleep? Would you benefit from starting a daily meditation practice? Do you need to write a list of activities that bring you joy so you can increase your frequency of positive emotions? Do you have ideas for how you connect with more meaning and purpose in your work and life? Whatever you do, release any pressure you may be feeling to make improvements in all of these areas. Start where you are. Pick one thing. Small actions for your wellbeing can make a big difference.

7. BUILDING GRIT AND CULTIVATING GRACE 

Professor Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania has found that the most successful people in any field have a ferocious determination that plays out in two ways: they’re unusually resilient and hardworking, and they know in a very deep way what they want. It’s their combination of perseverance and passion that makes them high achievers.  In a word, they have grit.

People with grit work consistently toward challenges and maintain their interest and effort over years despite failures, setbacks, and plateaus in their progress. And while most of us take disappointment or boredom as signals that it’s time to change our approach or cut our losses, people with grit read these as signs to stick with it and truly show up.

So how do you build more grit in your career? Grit means using your passion, interests and purpose to guide and prioritise your efforts. Pf. Duckworth suggests one way to understand this is to envision a goal hierarchy. Your top-level goals are shaped by your sense of purpose, the compass that guides you on the long and winding road to where you ultimately want to be. Next would come your mid-level goals (of which there could be several layers) that explain how this top-level goal will be achieved. Finally at the bottom would be your low-level goals that detail what you’re doing to make the mid-level and top-level goals possible. These are your most concrete and specific goals, the tasks you have on short-term to-do lists.

The research has found that being gritty is much easier when we pare down our long lists of mid-level and low-level work goals according to how they serve just one top-level goal.  She also notes that giving up on lower-level goals is not only forgivable, but sometimes absolutely necessary.

Alongside building grit in your career, it’s equally important to cultivate grace. The way we look at grace is really about sitting in the knowledge that everything will be what it's meant to be and that no matter where you are on your career journey, you are enough and it is enough, right where you are right in this moment.

Try this:

As you think about building more grit in your career, take out a notebook and brainstorm your own goals hierarchy. What is your top-level goal? Why is it that you do what you do? What are your mid-level goals - in other words, what are the different milestones and projects that will help you achieve your top-level goal? And finally, brainstorm all of the low-level goals - the day-to-day actions and tasks that will help you achieve your mid-level and top-level goals.

8. LEADING CHANGE 

We are all leaders and we all have the capacity to impact positive change on a small or large scale. While we tend to think that organisational change happens from the top, or in certain teams or certain initiatives, the truth is that change actually occurs when one individual, and then another, and then another chooses to start showing up and acting differently. And you are a leader, no matter what your role, level, size of team or even if you’re an individual contributor. We all have the capacity for leadership. And leading self and leading others effectively are two of the most critical success factors for your own success, and that of the organisation you work in.

So how do we lead change so that our organisations, governments and any other system we work in operate better for all who work in them, and also for the next generations that are coming through?

We start with learning to show up authentically as individuals and as leaders, and encouraging the same in others. The days of putting on your cloak and mask when you show up for work each day, so that you can be ‘accepted’ in the cookie cutter workplace, need to be over. Slowly, they are changing and we each have a role to play in accelerating that change. Checking our biases, being inclusive, valuing everyone’s voice, opinion and style, and bringing a mix of our feminine and masculine traits to the table (and making sure everyone has a seat at that table) and core factors that will enable you to show up with more ease and authenticity, and all those around you to do the same. Who we are is how we lead. Your ability to show up with authenticity, and lead with it, will have a profound impact on your career and leadership journey. And it's a great place to start.

Try this:

If you are ready to evolve your career and committed to creating a purposeful future, we highly recommend that you join the Women Rising program, a holistic personal and professional development journey that thousands of women call life changing. It will give you the tools to thrive in your career and life.

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Becoming More Confident

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