Rising to the Top of Your Career

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In my last post “You Have a Ticket ~ Use It!” I promised to give you 3 tips on how to rise in your career. Whether you’re looking to start a new career, change jobs or get promoted in the one you’re currently in, there is one simple question I encourage you to ask yourself:

“Why should anyone pay me?”

This question helps you think from your boss’ perspective. There are only 2 reasons for a boss to pay anyone.

Number 1, you get paid for following instructions. How you react to instructions reveals nearly everything about you. How well do you listen to instructions and execute them? Do you need instructions to be repeated? Dr. Mike Murdock says, “If you need to tell your secretary the same thing twice, she should give you back half her paycheck.” Why? Because she made you work twice as much as you ought to! She was hired to lessen her boss’ work load, not increase it! Following instructions is no passive thing, it is proactive listening and implementing without having to be told again.

I suppose most of us tend to think we are good at following instructions, but my experience in leading people tells me otherwise. Only people who rise to the top clearly understand the importance of following orders. Others who wonder why they are not getting a pay raise or promotion are usually better at coming up with their own ideas. In their own minds they are brilliant: they have thought of an alternative, taken a short-cut, saved their own time, avoided unnecessary work, but in the boss’ mind, they have ignored or even defied an instruction.

Remember this, you are allowed to have your own ideas, but when an instruction comes to you, you are to first follow instructions, and after having completed them, you may have the opportunity to present your brilliant idea.

Colin Powell, the first black US Secretary of State, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Advisor, and retired 4-star General, explained how he rose to the top. One of the most important paragraphs I read in his book “It Worked for Me” was on page 36:

“I never tried to fight my superiors’ priorities. Instead I worked hard to accomplish the tasks they set as quickly and decisively as I could. The sooner I could satisfy my superiors, the sooner they would stop bugging me about them, and the quicker I could move on to my own priorities. Always give the king his due first.” In other words, follow instructions first, then you can do what you like!

It was public knowledge that he and President Bush disagreed on many things, but Colin Powell was able to say at the end of his job, “During my tenure as Secretary of State, I worked hard on president Bush’s agenda, and we accomplished a great deal that has not received the credit it deserved… I left the State Department in January 2005. President Bush and I parted on good terms.” (page 37) If you were to assess your own performance at work or in your church, would you be able to say you are working hard on your boss’ agenda, your pastor’s agenda or your own agenda? I encourage you to wake up each day and ask the Lord, “What’s on Your agenda?” Then when you get to work, try to find out, “What’s my boss’ agenda?” When you attend church, be proactive and discern, “What’s my pastor’s vision? What’s God telling him and how can I help?” Every church is looking for more volunteers and more creative ways to make Jesus known.

Most people are consumed about what they want, not what their boss wants. I have heard the following excuses when an instruction was given and ignored:

“I didn’t see that email.”
“I got the email, but didn’t read it.”
“I forgot it’s my turn.”
“I got busy and didn’t get around to it.”
“I think this way is better.”

Colin Powell revealed that he would give the following talk to his staff and subordinates. Imagine if you got to work for such a prominent statesmen, this is what you would hear from him: “A moment will come when I have heard enough and I make a decision. At that very instant, I expect all of you to execute my idea as if it were your idea. Don’t damn the decision… we now all move out together to get the job done. And don’t argue with me any more unless you have new information or I realize I goofed and come back to you” (page 15).

This leads us to the third tip for you to rise in your career: welcome problems as an opportunity to distinguish yourself and contribute to your team. Without problems, you would have no value to the company.

You are paid for only 2 reasons: 1) to follow instructions and 2) to solve problems. If you are not actively solving problems, you probably are the problem. Dr. Mike Murdock says, “You will only be known for 2 things in life: the problems you solve and the problems you create.”

If you are not solving problems, you should be reprimanded, and if you won’t change, you should be fired! Why should a boss hire you or promote you? Because you can demonstrate that you have been solving problems and will welcome the opportunity to solve any problem that may arise. Never say on the job or at your church, “That’s not my problem!” If you see a problem, make it your problem to solve, without disrespecting the chain of command.

Colin Powell had a habit of going “walkabout,” wandering where the troops and staff are. Thus he found out things that would never or not easily flow through the staff and up the chain of command. He wrote: “I followed up on every problem I got, but did it in a way that didn’t undercut the chain of command.” He also gave others the chance to solve the problems: “I tried to make sure my subordinates knew not to be threatened by my roaming around, and I gave them first shot at solving the problem…unless they were the problem” (page 50).

Many people are actually stressed out about problems. The same people wonder why they are being overlooked for promotion. Instead of fixing them, they hide the problem from their boss, delay reporting a mistake, find ways to avoid dealing with the issue. Colin Powell had a policy: “If you want to work for me, don’t surprise me! And when you tell me, tell me everything.” (page 113).

The only reason you have a job is to solve problems. Don’t shy away from them. Don’t merely look for ways to manage them. “Problems have to be solved, not managed,” wrote Colin Powell. “You can’t get away with burying them, minimizing them, reorganizing around them, softening them, or assigning blame somewhere outside your responsibility. You have to make real and effective changes.”

I notice some Christians think they have solved a problem when they can find someone to blame! (Perhaps this flaw is not exclusive to Christians, but this is what I see in churches.) People feel like they are absolved from responsibility when they can say, “That person wouldn’t do it. That person dropped the ball.” My expectation as a leader is that you talk to the person, find out why they’re failing in that job, and give them a second chance; and if you have done so and things didn’t improve, then pray to God and find another person who is gifted and waiting for an opportunity to distinguish themselves!

Discuss the problem with positive energy, ask around for a solution. Don’t sit there and assign blame! I don’t know about companies, but I find that in church, nearly everything we need is already there. God has deposited amazing gifts within His church, and they are waiting to be discovered. We have only to pray that God open our eyes, as Paul prayed for the Ephesians in chapter 1 verse 18. In our own church, we have people with degrees in cinematography, multimedia, journalism, IT, aerospace engineering, etc. How much of these gifts and talents are being directed towards God’s Kingdom?

One way to solve problems in church is for organizers and trainers to continually mine the amazing talents in the Church and channel their passions towards the vision God has given that local congregation. This means becoming proactive. It means getting to know your pastor’s heart and listening to his priorities, not your own. It means getting to know people around us and praying for them to fulfill God’s call over their lives.

We often overlook the person most willing to help not because we have asked them and they said ‘no,’ but because we assume it’s better not to ask. There is a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin and Lucille Ball, I don’t know who said it first, which applies here. I like to keep this in mind when looking for someone to help solve a problem: “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.” The more problems you solve, the more problems you can solve! And the more you will be rewarded.

What other tips do you have for rising in your career?

A good follow up to these 2 tips is my one-hour advice: “Get on Track with Your Career and Call“. It is part of a 4-hour set called “Pursue Your Call“. Different topics covered in the set:
Get On Track with Your Career and Call 
Steps to a Fulfilling Career
The 3D Principle: Identifying the Call of God
The 5 Anointed Ministries: Understanding Prophets & Teachers