Most people strive to constantly improve themselves, be it perfecting a skill, becoming better at their jobs or moving up to the next position. Many people go about it haphazardly, however, often assuming that longevity and training gradually will move them up the rungs. Not so, says Tom Markert, author of You Can’t Win a Fight With Your Boss & 55 Other Rules for Success (HarperCollins, 2005). To take giant steps toward the CEO’s office – or whatever position you are aiming for – you must actively and constantly seek improvement. Here are five of Markert’s recommendations for becoming more successful.
1. Become an expert. Think about your job and figure out an area or two where you can gain an advantage by being more knowledgeable. Then read everything you can about the subject. Years ago Markert took a job with a company that was about to launch a card-based shopper loyalty program. Being new to the company and not knowing anything about card-based shopper loyalty programs, Markert sat quietly in a meeting on the topic and listened to everyone toss out their ideas. Then he spent the next two days learning everything he could about the subject. He found out what worked and what had failed in loyalty programs worldwide. When he walked into the next meeting, he knew more than anyone else in the room. “It is rewarding (and fun) to walk into a meeting as the expert,” says Markert. “You will awe your audience and your career star will shine more brightly.”
2. Read books. Great ideas are published every day. Don’t miss out on them. “Get to a bookstore twice a month and buy a couple of books from hot authors, professors or business leaders. These books are jammed with ideas you can apply to your life and company,” says Markert. “Even if you don’t agree with all the messages in a book, the process will at least force you to open your mind to something different.” Most CEOs read a lot of books, he adds, because they are constantly searching for the next big trend or idea.
3. Get an MBA. MBAs are the great differentiator. All other things being equal, the employee with the MBA will get the promotion. Don’t think you have time? Find it, says Markert. Don’t have the money? Check into whether your company will subsidize continuing education. At the same time, encourage your sales reps to pursue further education. You will probably encounter a wall of resistance, but keep pushing. “Training and education on every level create better people,” explains Markert. “Better people get better results. You are paid to get results, so all the logic is there!”
4. Take care of your best people. Look after your top reps in every respect and they’ll perform for you. Share with them what’s going on, ask for their input and when you take them to dinner, take them to a great restaurant. “Top performers feed the tribe,” says Markert, “so you need to treat them like gold.”
5. Take a stroll on the balcony. Spend at least an hour once a week strolling on the balcony – a place where you can look down on everything happening in your life. The balcony is where you can think about your business and what can be done to improve it. It’s simply thinking time, explains Markert, noting all good leaders make time for it. Here are some of Markert’s ideas for finding a balcony: take a solo morning or evening walk where you think about what’s going on; spend every Friday afternoon alone in a café with a coffee; hop on a treadmill at 5 a.m. and start thinking while you run or walk. Whatever works best for you, add some thinking and reflecting time to your schedule if you want to improve.