Failure has become mythologized over the last few years. Tech founders and business titans have spun failure into a dramatic twist in their stories of ultimate success. It makes for great copy, but failure generally isn’t glamorous. It is painful, destructive and takes a lot of resilience and perseverance to recover from. However, it is a necessary and unavoidable part of any career.
So I’ve failed pretty hard a few times along the way. Sometimes it was circumstances or overreaching, but most of the time it was tactical or strategic errors on my part. For every great upward step or killer project I’ve delivered there have been plenty of mistakes. Some are easy to set right, others have posed big challenges to overcome.
So what did I learn? Here are ten things that might keep you one step ahead of failure.
1 Show and tell. You need to speak for your work because in any company and particularly a bigger company it often won’t speak for itself. This isn’t about bragging, but about showcasing what you and your team do in smart effective ways. PowerPoints, Keynotes, handouts. Explain it in a clearly so you make sure people see and hear your process and results. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Keep it short and simple, but make sure everyone knows you are doing great things.
2 Make alliances quickly and constantly. You can’t just sit in your office and hope that people are thinking and saying great things about you. Get out there and talk to people. Create relationships. Go to lunch. Go to drinks. Go to events. This is high school all over again and you need to make as many friends and alliances as you can. You don’t have to like everyone, but you need to keep your enemy count low. You will be busy with your job, but you need to spend almost as much time building and nurturing relationships.
3 LIsten and be present. You can’t sit in meetings and look at your phone. This is deadly. People want to be heard and you want to be seen listening to them. Seeming aloof, disinterested and apathetic are poison for your career. Leave your phone in your office. Smile when you enter a meeting. Listen with bright eyes. Nod. Acknowledge great ideas and offer positive feedback. Don’t feel like you always need to chime in. People want to hear themselves, not necessarily hear others. Share when you need to, not when you want to.
4 Avoid busyness. We all have a lot to do and not enough time to do it. However, don’t fall into the trap of being too busy to listen, too busy to work on a project, too rushed. Nobody cares that you are too busy. “I am so busy” sounds like a lame excuse and it is. Get rid of the busy work that makes you busy. Unsubscribe from email lists. Avoid personal emails and the lure of the internet at work. Do your job and do the busy stuff later. At home. Or on a break.
5 Fight back. Go with the flow and respect the politics when you can. However, if someone throws you under the bus, get up and don’t let them do it. Push back and push back hard. This is tough, but if you let someone make you look bad or incompetent long enough others will start to believe it. Find out how to control the message. Use your power. Sometimes you have to be an asshole,
6 Focus. Really focus on your primary goals. Make sure your boss is aligned with your goals and has had input. Then work like hell to get them done. Hire with speed. Fire with speed. Accomplish quickly and effectively. Don’t worry about anything else. Laser-like focus on your key objectives is absolutely critical. In a smaller business or startup this is even more crucial.
7 Get buy in. Make certain you get buy in from all key stakeholders. If you don’t it will hurt you later. You may not want to decide everything by committee, but it is better than getting shot or stabbed in the back later. A little compromise now could save you from getting your biggest projects tanked. Unless you have a lot of political power you need to get everyone on board. It sucks, but it’s politics.
8 Be the master of your time. Be on time for meetings and look like you are in charge of your time because you are. Don’t let the calendar control you. You are in control of your calendar. Don’t act too busy. Don’t act overwhelmed. Don’t act rushed. Make it look easy and make sure people know you are in control. Block off time for you to get work done. Every day. You need it and it will pay off when you are in back to back meetings, knowing that you’ve got time to get everything done.
9 Go to the gym. Find a way to get some exercise every day. The less stress you carry into work means a lot less you will carry out. You need to make time to take care of yourself whether it’s a walk, a run, meditation, yoga or hitting the gym. The time you put in will pay off in increased confidence, better focus and a healthier you. Schedule it. Don’t hope that it will happen or it won’t.
10 Go home. Leave work at work. There will be times you have to work late and times you will bring work home, but let that be the exception, not the rule. That means putting down the phone and staying off work email. Avoid burnout. You’re in this for the long haul and you need to relax, sleep and enjoy your friends and family. If you don’t control your job it will control you. And that can be the first step on the perilous road to failure.