I once worked for a true genius. He was an ideas man – an innovator. He could see things in ways no one else could, envisioning products, partnerships, and solutions that wowed people. In theory. But his ultimate downfall (because, spoiler alert, he did fall down) was his inability to master the basics of the job.
Words like innovation, agility, digital – they often make a hiring leader’s mouth water. But the best ideas in the world are worthless if you can’t execute them.
I often talk to leaders who are frustrated by things like team members missing deadlines or being unreliable. And it leaves me wondering if we’ve started to over-index on the sexy and lost sight of the basics.
If you’re striving to be a superstar at work, before you start innovating in an agile and digital manner, take a moment to take stock of how you’re landing the basics. Because if you’re not getting the essentials done, you’re not adding your truest value. No one wants to hire an idea-maker who doesn’t deliver on the promise.
Here are four of the essentials that will help shoot you to the top.
If you’re not getting the essentials done, you’re not adding your truest value. No one wants to hire an idea-maker who doesn’t deliver on the promise.
Tip #1: Be reliable
A former boss once told me “Rachel, when I ask you to take something on – getting a project finished, a question answered, a memo written – I know that as soon as you put it on your list, I can cross it off of mine.”
As compliments go, that one was pretty unsexy. But over time, I came to realize that she tended to give the juiciest assignments – the most important, the most visible – to me because I was her most reliable team member. Once I said I would do something, she never had to worry or chase it down. And that was incredibly valuable to her as a busy leader.
Don’t underestimate the power of being someone who does what you’ve said you’ll do. It builds trust, credibility, and may earn you access to the work that matters most.
Tip #2: Be a team player
You’ve got a job to do – as do each of your colleagues. As a general rule, it’s not your responsibility to pick up someone else’s slack. That said, there are always moments of exception. And sometimes the very thing to do is step outside of your “official” job description and just get the thing over the finish line.
Maybe you notice a colleague struggling with overwhelm and you see something on their plate that you know you could knock out in minutes. Maybe a client has called you because their official point of contact is busy, and the client’s need is urgent. Can you resolve their issue without breaking a sweat? Or even just point them in the right direction? If so, go for it.
Being a team player is a mindset. It’s not about a willingness to take on extra work, but rather a commitment to an outcome and a desire to be flexible in the role you play. Leaders really appreciate that commitment and flexibility. It bumps up their confidence that the most essential work will get done.
Tip #3: Demonstrate accountability
Accountability has become a dirty word – a synonym for blame and shame. Today, I’d like to reclaim it!
Imagine you’ve called a customer service hotline with a question. The representative who picked up your call doesn’t have the answer – but she’s offered to transfer you to the right department. At this point that representative has two options: a “cold” transfer (she sends the call) or a “warm” one (she hangs on the line with you until she’s confirmed her colleague has picked up).
Having accountability is being a warm transferrer. Your job is not always to know the answer or to do the work, but rather to recognize the need, and do your part to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
Maybe you work in finance and part of your job is providing data to the sales teams to inform their go-to-market approach. You’ve noticed that one sales team in particular seems to be lagging behind the others, and you suspect they may be missing or misunderstanding an important data point you provided. So you sit down with the leader, ensure she understands the critical information, and make a recommendation on how she can use that insight strategically.
It’s not your job to point this out. But noticing an opportunity to further an organizational goal with your expertise is accountability in action. And your willingness to step outside your formal job description for the greater good won’t go unnoticed. Leaders love having team members who are focusing on the bigger picture.
Noticing an opportunity to further an organizational goal with your expertise is accountability in action.
Tip #4: Be a pleasure to work with
Clients hire me to design interactive experiences that help their teams deliver their best work. They refer me to others because I’m good at my craft…but also – and just as importantly – because I’m easy to work with.
Don’t misunderstand. I have and express strong opinions. I offer unsolicited advice that may be hard to hear. And I hold teams to high standards during my programs. But I do all of this with empathy and respect. I also make sure to bring fun and levity into the room. I check in with people to see how they’re doing. I show interest in their work as well as mine.
People like to work with people they like to work with. This is never an excuse not to do excellent work. But leaders want to build teams of people who are just enjoyable to be around.
This never means tolerating inappropriate or offensive humor or allowing your personal boundaries to be infringed upon. It just means showing up as someone interested in those around you – someone others want to spend time with.
So start a practice of asking your teammates how their projects are moving along, or periodically check in with someone just to see how they’re doing. You will be amazed at how much mileage this simple gesture gets you.