Learn to succeed by recognizing concepts destined to fail

August 2, 2010
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The world has become a place in which change is the only constant. If we stand firm without seeking to improve ourselves or increase our contributions, we may find ourselves “on the outside looking in.” While many seek work, the sense of security offered by a solid job can become a prison from which one cannot escape if it fails to provide the opportunity to grow and advance.

In today’s competitive environment, people cannot be stagnant within their lives — cannot do only what has been assigned or is expected — if they hope to taste success, recognition or growth.

Looking back instead of ahead, remaining content with the present rather than building upon the present as a step into the future, and doing what works as opposed to seeking what might work better are signs of terminal stagnation.

There are several pitfalls that minimize your ability to bring your dreams to reality.

To insure success, recognize and actively avoid these precursors of failure:

  • Never be content with the skills or knowledge you possess. Continually upgrade and apply your abilities.

What was once necessary to maintain a life-long job is no longer sufficient in today’s world. A secretary needs word-processing proficiency. Many production workers need to run automated machinery or understand statistical process controls. An HR professional must maintain his or her knowledge of legislation impacting the work force to insure compliance.

Individuals who “fail to know” typically fail to grow.

  • Do not confuse being efficient with being effective — or worse, keeping busy with being productive.

An e-mail may be efficient, but a conversation could more effectively resolve an issue without extended “replies and clarifications.” A person may appear busy but unless a concrete objective is accomplished, the activity is no more meaningful than dust in the wind.

Effective people make sure that every investment of time and/or energy has a direct and measurable impact on their organization’s ability to conduct business.

  • Never believe you are irreplaceable.

When an employee feels that nobody could ever do what he or she does, that employee has probably limited what he or she could ever accomplish.

It is difficult to be important to anyone else when one becomes self-absorbed and self-important.

  • Don’t fool yourself into thinking you know all the answers.

One must always be open to new ideas, techniques and ways of doing things in order to grow. Innovation and resolution-based problem-solving comes from applying new ways of doing things to accomplish existing tasks. One can truly contribute only after identifying the limitations of current systems, policies and procedures, asking questions as to how they might be improved, then moving forward toward the adoption of more effective resolutions.

People who know all the questions are often more valuable than those who feel they know all the answers.

  • Never forget (or refuse) to give credit to others, particularly when assigning blame to others should they fail.

People who recognize and acknowledge the ideas and actions of those who make things happen — and assume the blame if things go wrong — will win loyalty, be recognized as leaders and become vital contributors to the activities around them. When one assigns the responsibility and holds an individual accountable for results, providing the opportunity to rectify mistakes should they occur, ownership is clearly established.

Think about how much we could accomplish if only we did not care who received the credit.

  • Do not establish confidence and credibility by always assuming the lead. Rather, a delicate blend of “me first” and “I am right behind you” is needed to gain another’s confidence.

A person is measured more by actions than by words. To retain credibility, others must be encouraged to grow up through the ranks — forging a path that the group can follow — with you “watching their back” to minimize the consequences of a fall.

A good leader cannot always be first, but must never push the team into avoidable trouble from a “safe position behind the lines.”

Take time to plan where you are going, think about how you are going to get there and maintain perspective along the way. Learning from the failure of others is often easier, but acknowledging and moving forward from our own experiences is somehow much more effective.


David J. Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association, a not-for-profit provider of human resource solutions since 1939.

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