My ambition has definitely helped me excel in my career. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I went from graduating college with a Creative Writing degree to running a thriving manufacturing, distribution, and retail operation in a male-dominated industry. Every one of my employees, along with the owner of the company, are men, and earning their respect came with its fair share of challenges. Here’s how I not only managed that, but I went from being the lowest level employee to running the company in six months.
I was a helper. In every type of business, in every department, someone needs help. Sure, that might mean folding boxes or cleaning toilets, but I was always willing to assist even if it meant staying late. At first, there were some men at work who seemed to take advantage of my willingness to help, so I helped them even more until their job sucked if I wasn’t around. Not only was I being a team player, I was also getting to know the inner workings of each department. As I started being promoted, I showed them I was never above any task.
I pretended I was in a movie. In order to get ahead in most careers, you have to have confidence. There were many times I was meeting with the owner or investors and I was terrified. If I really couldn’t access that inner confidence, I just pretended I was in a movie. I know it sounds really weird, but it worked. I just told myself I had to be a confident character going into a meeting, and within the first minute, I would completely forget about it and let my real confidence shine.
I was honest when I needed help. As someone who was quickly promoted, there were many times I needed to do things I’d never done before or had little experience in. Rather than being hindered by my shortcomings, I wasn’t afraid to reveal my weaknesses to my employees. Not only did it allow me to play to my strengths, it allowed their strengths to shine when they could assist. Ultimately it’s not really about what your employees think about you, it’s about how you make them feel about themselves.
I met with employees individually. I noticed during our group meetings that I wasn’t always getting the respect I needed to have a productive discussion. Sometimes people would be rolling in late, other times they’d be on their phones. If I said something about it, they might smirk or think I was being a bitch. I started having rotating one-on-ones with a different employee each week. This was a chance for me to get to know the people who worked for me and understand what makes them come to work every day. They appreciated having a voice and I really did listen—that was key. We made some big business decisions based on some of the feedback I got in our one-on-ones, and since I’d developed better rapport with them individually, our group meetings improved dramatically.
I took responsibility and admitted when I was wrong. Taking responsibility is about self-awareness. In any company, things go wrong. Of course, if it has nothing to do with your department and you didn’t even know it happened, it’s not your fault. However, I found that if any error was connected to me in any way, taking responsibility earned respect and allowed the issue to be solved more quickly. It’s not about my ego, it’s about what’s best for the business, and it’s OK to make mistakes. There were many times I made mistakes where it was possible no one would notice, but it was important to me to notify the team to show them that I was aware of where I’d gone wrong and I wouldn’t make that error again. When you admit your flaws to people openly and honestly, it’s hard for them to judge you too harshly or to dwell.
I held it together and I never talked crap. I’m an extremely emotional person. I get over-excited when I’m happy and feel sadness extremely deeply when bad things happen. There were times I had to let people go, times I had extreme hardship going on in my personal life, and times when colleagues wanted to discuss another employee negatively. I was never a robot, but I knew that if I bought into drama, it would create perceived vulnerability. I based my decisions on facts or gut feelings when needed, but never on emotion. This did not come naturally to me, but it’s ultimately what got me the respect that took me from being unemployed to making six figures in under a year.
Earning respect from people at work is vital to career advancement and maintaining a productive workplace, but always make sure it doesn’t take precedence over respecting your own ambitions. Sometimes you just gotta do you to be happy. In my particular case, I decided the corporate life wasn’t in line with what I wanted for myself. In the end, my departure was a decision my employees had to respect.
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