I think it’s safe to say that a man’s career is a big part of his identity, and I don’t think that is inherently a bad thing.
As men, we want to provide for our families. We want to challenge ourselves. We want to create. We want to build value. We want to partner with others.
Our careers have the potential to meet many of these needs, and in a healthy context, that’s good.
In my own life, however, I’ve found it’s incredibly easy to invest all my focus in the job itself and lose sight of something equally important. Whether I’m enjoying my job or hating it, I find all my energy and attention wrapped up in the job itself.
I forget that who I am at work is equally important to the work that I’m doing.
Closing another sale is a big deal. But at the end of the day, it’s not really as important as the people involved in the sale. Your workplace is made up of more than a collection of employees. It’s made up of real people with lives as real and personal as your own.
The workplace is an incredible opportunity for you to be a man. It’s an incredible opportunity for you to positively impact people by being an amazing person. And yes, it’s also a great opportunity for you to be the best you can be at what you do.
So that’s what we are looking at today, in as well-rounded a context as I can manage: 8 ways to be a better man at work.
1. Embrace the responsibility of self-promotion.
I tend to not be a very self-promotional person. While part of this has to do with what I hope is a healthy dose of humility, I know for certain that another part has to do with a fear of the responsibility that comes with self-promotion.
If someone above me recognizes potential in me and places me in the limelight, the standard for “success” is much lower than if I demanded attention and placed myself in that spotlight.
If I say something like, “Here’s a possible idea” at the business development meeting, there’s less riding on my idea than if I say, “I’ve done the research and this IS the best possible strategy.” If my boss says, “Jacob, I’m putting you down to teach 15 minutes at our sales seminar”, there’s less riding on my performance than if I approach my boss and say, “Give me 15 minutes. I’m a great sales teacher.”
The pressure to deliver is much lower when I’m being promoted as opposed to promoting myself.
Now, in some ways, that sounds like a good Christian way of doing things. So much of our teaching in the church is “less of me” and “I’m nothing”. Living a non-promotional life is the best way of doing things, right?
In reality, I’ve found that it is virtually impossible to get anywhere meaningful without placing yourself there in some shape or form.
You could live your entire life without your idea getting picked. You could work in sales 30 years without ever being asked to teach at a seminar. If those are your goals, you have to be willing to put yourself on the line.
And most importantly, you have to be willing to TRUST YOURSELF to deliver.
There is certainly an arrogant, competitive and over-confident form of self-promotion. But we call the other kind – the good kind – “initiative”.
It’s time for you to bet on yourself.
And of course, it’s a lot better to bet on yourself when you are actually good at stuff…
2. Focus on developing expertise.
There’s a big difference between having a job and having a career, and that big difference is called “expertise”.
When your efforts at work are continually building your expertise in a particular area – ideally, an area with long-term value – you are building a career rather than simply filling a job description.
Why is this important?
- Building a career brings a sense of accomplishment, purpose and fulfillment into your work activities.
- Developing unique expertise makes you irreplaceable.
In today’s economic climate, people who are simply job hunting are having a rough time of it, while those hiring out their expertise are doing quite well. While I don’t make any money from Uncompromised Men, my writing talent is an expertise I make my living from and continually work to improve upon.
But you don’t have to be a freelancer to be developing expertise. There are probably valuable skills you can focus on developing at your current place of work, even if you are in a transitional season. Sometimes this requires you to go a bit outside your job description, but it’s worth it to do so.
It all comes down to having a forward-moving baseline for each season…
3. Create a baseline of progress for each season.
It’s rare that our circumstances align in an ideal fashion. Most of the time, we have the ability to make a few key choices, and then we’re left to make the best of everything else.
I’ve found that creating a baseline of progress for each season can be a life saver.
Think of your “baseline” as the counterpoint to your most extreme goals. It’s the minimum to your maximum. Our maximum goals typically require a good bit of “luck” or outside influence to achieve. Our baseline goals are something we can mostly make happen ourselves.
A baseline looks like this: “If I accomplish nothing else in this next season, I WILL _______.”
Let’s say you are working an entry-level sales job, and your goal is to become a marketing VP. You may not get promoted this year, but your baseline for the season could be, “If nothing else, I’m going to pitch 20 new clients per week and develop an in-depth understanding of the problems my customers are dealing with.”
One of my high-end goals for writing this year is to publish 2 ebooks and receive $10,000 in ebook sales. My baseline is that I WILL publish 2 ebooks and I will hit all my writing deadlines.
If I don’t end up taking the leaps I hope to take in my career this year, at the end of the day, I WILL build my expertise by putting the work in to write, publish, and market 2 ebooks. Completing my baseline will make this a season of progress regardless of how the uncontrollable circumstances pan out.
4. Empower everyone around you.
Moving out of the area of personal success and into the category of “who you ARE at work”, lets talk about leadership.
We’ve developed a bit of a sticky quagmire in this country, where competition has become everything. You fight your way into the top spot and then you fight to keep a stranglehold on your position. This model looks nothing like real leadership.
If you want to be a truly great leader, help those around you become their best possibles selves.
When you empower those under you to do something amazing, not only to do they succeed, you succeed as their leader. Competition sees the world from a win-loss perspective. Leadership creates win-win scenarios.
And you don’t need to be the boss to empower those around you. Validating your coworkers ideas, affirming their dreams, and helping them learn are all ways you can empower people regardless of your position.
But of course, this requires you to actually get to know your coworkers in a meaningful way…
5. Make relationship part of the job description.
If you want to positively impact your workplace, get to know the people who work there.
Not on a “Hey Bob, how’s Nancy and the kids?” level, but on the level that gives you insight into who they are and where they want to go.
Very few people really care about the person sitting next to them at work. Very few people take interest in the goals of someone other than themselves.
On a selfish level, empowering those around you makes you an obvious pick for leadership, but the benefits go so far beyond that. By getting to really know people and helping them accomplish their goals, you are having a hug impact on their lives. You are marking them with love and letting them know that they are valuable beyond the level of their performance.
And in many ways, that’s what being a man is all about. Empowering, protecting, affirming, and giving others access to the platform we built. This is the definition of a father, and we don’t need to limit the extent of our fathering to our actual kids.
Being a man at work looks a lot like being a father.
6. Create and enforce healthy boundaries.
Drawing another comparison between family and work, setting up good boundaries is crucial in the workplace.
Some of you reading this have a hard time saying “No” to others. It’s time to respect yourself enough to stop being a doormat. When you respect yourself in front of others by upholding good boundaries, you set the tone for others to respect you.
As a leader, this looks like empowering those under you to have good boundaries as well. While you can’t create personal boundaries for another person, you can model them and create an environment that encourages those boundaries to be set and enforced.
And just like you need the ability to say “No”, don’t forget what we talked about in Point #1. Sometimes, it’s time to say “Yes” to yourself when you would normally say “no”.
Sometimes it’s even good to say “Yes” to something outside your job description…
7. Do one thing outside your job description every quarter.
While I would strongly encourage you to refrain from doing work outside your job description in response to a boss’ orders or an unspoken expectation (remember your boundaries), doing something un-required from time to time can facilitate growth, learning, and help you stand out in the workplace.
The primary goal of this activity would be to build expertise and get out of your comfort zone. Never do something like this purely for attention.
Here’s a practical example.
A few years back, I started a job at an SEO agency doing link-building activities. I recognized pretty quickly that my job activities would be highly repetitive, and while I was learning a bunch at the beginning, as time progressed, I would be learning less and less.
Accordingly, I began looking for my “baseline” as we talked about earlier. I saw that the agency was outsourcing it’s written content to a writers’ mill and getting extremely mediocre-quality work, so after a few weeks, I pitched them the idea of letting me take over some of the outsourced writing. I would provide much higher quality content for a slightly higher price than what they were currently paying.
My boss liked the idea, so I spent the next year further developing my writing skills. Yes, I was writing about cleaning products and carpet removal, but I was writing and researching and building my expertise through engaging in an activity outside my original job description.
Finding opportunities like this has a lot to do with how you are mentally approaching your current job.
8. If you can’t have the job you love…
The reality is that few of us start at our dream job. We work towards it and eventually achieve it.
But if you can’t have the job you love, love the job you have.
You will never live tomorrow. You can only live today. This means it’s incredibly important for you to embrace and enjoy the job you have right now.
I’m going to be honest. If you hate your job, start looking for a new one. There is no reason that sticking with a job that makes you miserable is worth it. There is money for your bills to be found elsewhere. Go find it, and then put in your two weeks notice.
If you are choosing to stay with your current job, find ways to love that job. You might find enjoyment in the relationships. You might find it in changing the job description. You might find it in the little things.
Don’t be miserable. ‘Aint nobody got time for that.
Okay, it’s your turn. Pop down into the comments and let me know what it means to you to “be a better man” at work.