What’s our greatest concern about work? We may not think about it consciously, but it drives all our actions at work. How can I do great work to get noticed, rewarded, recognized, and appreciated?
Not rewarded in a monetary sense, but knowing that your work makes a difference, it adds value to others, people count on you, they respect and value your advice, or your actions move the organization forward. Knowing that your work is impactful is more rewarding than any material benefits or words of praise. In other words, we all think about “How can I truly stand out?”
No one heads to work thinking I am going to do mediocre work today and then head home and binge-watch Netflix. Ok, maybe a few. But, most of us don’t. People who care about doing great work take pride in what they do. They like to make an impact and they do not work to simply earn a livelihood. Their work adds deeper meaning and purpose to their life.
Yet, those who are really good at what they do, don’t necessarily stand out. Look around you. Do people you admire and appreciate at work the best and brightest in their line of work? Is there something about their behavior that makes you like them more than others? What qualities do they possess?
Who’s more valuable?
The developer who can churn out 1000 lines of perfect code in an hour or the one who goes out of their way to fix a critical bug in production and saves the company thousands of dollars in lost revenue and customer trust.
A leader with extraordinary technical prowess or one who takes a genuine interest in your growth.
A person who gives you critical feedback to help you improve because they care or the one who says nice things only to make you feel good.
Being good at what you do is only a necessary condition, it’s not sufficient. What’s missing from the equation are the powerful behaviors that can make you truly stand out. Meeting deadlines and achieving set goals does not qualify for extraordinary work or make others value you. It’s business as usual.
What matters is how you operate, how you interact with others, or how you look beyond the outcomes to generate value. You do not need to go out of your way to get noticed.
You only need to adopt a set of simple behaviors that can make you effective in everything you do.
Over the years, I noticed 8 behaviors over and over again that made people influential, impactful and drove them forward. Adopting these behaviors and practicing them will bring about the biggest positive change in your work life.
8 powerful behaviors to stand out at work
1. Orient towards action
Pointing out flaws in what’s not working and what’s not so good is easy. Those who do that speak up to establish their smartness. They may think they are adding value, but really all they do is annoy others.
It’s the ones who roll up their sleeves, who grab opportunities, who take risks, who put out fires, or who actually go out and fix the problem that grabs everyone’s attention. They don’t let bureaucratic nonsense or processes be an excuse for inaction. They find ways to actually make things happen. While others are still deliberating, they turn their deliberation into action. Their willingness to get the ball rolling and to get things moving shows a clear bias for action.
Chuck Close, painter, artist and photographer once said “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”
Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer – Robert B. Cialdini
Get past your fears. Get things done. Have a strong bias for action even in the face of uncertainty. It will make you highly recognized at work and grow faster than your peers.
2. Stay intentional, yet flexible
People who define their own measure of success at work take their growth into their own hands.
By knowing what it is that they want, they are quick to grab the right opportunities. They make the best use of every situation and do not let distractions eat away into their mental energy and time. When facing challenges and setbacks, it keeps them intentional, gives them direction and guides their actions.
Being intentional about work also keeps them flexible to adjust to changes around them. They don’t act delusional. They are responsive to twists and turns. When things don’t work out the way they imagined, they find ways to move forward instead of being stuck with their bad decision.
There is no limit to what you can learn once you see yourself as a scientist in your own lab. The important thing is not where you were or where you are but where you want to get. Get a clear fix on where you want to go – David Schwartz
Be deliberate about your future while staying real about it. Define what it is you want to achieve. What kind of work do you want to do? What skills do you need to build? What do you want to learn? Use that as the compass to align all your actions. Once you do that, you will automatically stand out and be way ahead of others who are simply working hard and getting stressed, but not really moving forward since they fail to align their goals to their actions.
3. Make space for positivity
There are so many things that can be upsetting about work – mean coworkers, office politics, lack of growth, blame games, people-pleasing, or favoritism.
Those who refuse to be bogged down by their environment are more productive and better performers. Instead of finding excuses as to why they can’t do something, they choose to spend their mental energy and time in finding solutions.
They choose to get rid of negativity to make space for positive things in their life.
The best way to deal with negativity is to observe it, without reaction and without judgment. Then consciously label each negative feeling and replace it with positive, compassionate, and solution-based thoughts…By digging beneath what seems like a mountain of quibbles, details, and logistics, labels help to uncover and identify the primary emotion driving almost all of your behavior, the emotion that, once acknowledged, seems to miraculously solve everything else – Chris Voss
You will come across people from different backgrounds, aspirations, personalities, and motives. Some will inspire you and others can cause you frustration. Don’t let their negativity bring you down or affect you personally. Don’t let them define who you are or prevent you from achieving your goals. Acknowledge the negative and diffuse it by adopting positive thinking.
4. Invest in building skills for the future
There can be many reasons for working hard and feeling like you are putting in a lot of effort but not really making progress. Keeping busy, but not really learning. Real progress doesn’t come from simply acquiring knowledge, it requires putting it into practice.
People who stand out, look for opportunities to expand their knowledge. Little by little, they invest in areas that may not directly fall into their current job description but are essential to their progress in the future. By consistently investing in learning and practicing, they acquire far superior knowledge than what their job requires them to do. No doubt they are more valued, highly sought, and better prepared to handle higher-level responsibilities at work.
When you don’t know something, learn it. When you need help, ask for it. Find time to learn new valuable skills and look for opportunities to practice them. Don’t wait for others to give you work that will make you stand out. Find ways to create your own learning experiences.
5. Take genuine interest in others
No one has ever succeeded alone. You need support from the people in your network because essentially people want to work with the people they like.
Success depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people. Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return? – Adam Grant
People who stand out take time to build their network. They connect and build meaningful relationships at work by showing interest in other people’s work – How do you do it? What challenges do you face? Taking a genuine interest in what others have to say is a guaranteed way to form important connections at work.
Keeping an open eye to what other people need and finding ways to help them out is another great strategy to add value and earn other people’s respect.
An important skill while interacting with others is the ability to listen well. By listening well to others, they establish a better understanding of what the other person values and learns about their personal style. Now, when they need support with a project or an idea, they can present information in a way that makes the other person more receptive.
More and more opportunities land their way as the people in their network vouch for them and their work. They support them and seek them out when they need someone they can trust.
If you want to stand out, take time to build genuine connections at work. People in the network not only inspire, but they can also influence your thinking and guide you along the way. And maybe, just maybe if your idea connects with them personally, they can be your biggest brand ambassadors helping you spread the word.
6. Don’t settle for good enough, be exceptional
People who stand out, don’t do things half-heartedly or bare minimum only to tick an item off their to-do list. They try to be exceptional in everything they do. They question how things are always done and find new ways to do it. They try to go beyond the task and look for ways to generate additional value. Got a routine task, let’s find ways to automate it. Found a solution to a problem, let’s document it so others can benefit from it. Know how to do something, take up the challenge to try a new approach.
They continuously push boundaries because they know real growth only lies outside their comfort zone. They build their critical thinking skills by questioning their own assumptions and conclusions. They aren’t afraid to make mistakes, because mistakes signal growth or as Seth Godin writes –
When the tough parts come along, the rejection and the slog and the unfair bad breaks, it makes sense to welcome them. Instead of cursing or fearing the down moments, understand that they mean you’ve chosen reality, not some unsustainable fantasy. It means that you’re doing worthwhile, difficult work, not merely amusing yourself
And on this path to becoming exceptional, they stay away from arrogance. They practice confident humility which Adam Grant describes in Think Again as “having faith in our capability while appreciating that we may not have the right solution or even be addressing the right problem. That gives us enough doubt to reexamine our old knowledge and enough confidence to pursue new insights.”
They are confident in their ability to make the right decision while acknowledging that they need others to do it right. They know what they don’t know and have trust in what they do. They have faith in their strengths, while also being aware of their weaknesses. They accept when they don’t have the required knowledge, but show enough confidence in their ability to acquire that knowledge.
If you want to stand out, invest in continuous improvement and challenge yourself to be a little better each day. Don’t accept good enough, strive for excellence.
7. Consider obstacles and failures as opportunities
Instead of feeling helpless when they face a setback and refusing to act with a fear of failure, people who stand out feel in control of their life by considering every setback as a temporary event in their life. Failures and setbacks do disappoint them for a while, but they don’t let it define them.
They consider obstacles as opportunities to learn something new. Struggle gives them the signal that they are moving in the right direction, that they are learning and growing.
You will come across obstacles in life—fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. You will learn that this reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming—or possibly thriving because of—them. Where one person sees a crisis, another can see opportunity. Where one is blinded by success, another sees reality with ruthless objectivity. Where one loses control of emotions, another can remain calm. Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness—these reactions are functions of our perceptions. You must realize: Nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give in to such feelings – Ryan Holiday
Practice your growth mindset. Learn to look past setbacks and explore possibilities. By shifting your perspective, you will be better equipped to navigate work challenges and turn them into learning experiences.
8. Stay real, stay healthy
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care – Robert B. Cialdini
People who stand out don’t try to manipulate others or take advantage. They are honest in their interaction with others. And they are honest with themselves.
When they give critical feedback to others, people appreciate it because they know it comes from a place of care. They don’t pretend to know something and express their uncertainty by saying “I don’t know.” They share their mistakes and valuable lessons with others which encourages them to be open too.
Most importantly, they look after themselves. They do not let excuses like lack of time or too much work stop them from prioritizing their health. They make space and time for exercising, planning out healthy meals, or whatever it is that they need to do to have a healthy mind and body. Because it’s only by staying healthy they can produce their best work.
Have honest and open conversations with people at work. Stay true to your values and invest time in achieving a healthy state of mind and body.
- Simply doing great work is not enough. You need to adopt powerful behaviors to stand out at work.
- Show bias for action. Solve problems, make decisions, and take risks to move forward.
- Stay intentional yet flexible with your goals. Know what you want and be prepared to change course if the situation demands.
- When dealing with negativity, choose to stay with the positive. Don’t let negativity bring you down.
- Invest in building skills that will enable you to take more and better opportunities at work.
- Build your network by taking a genuine interest in others and their work. Spend time helping others out when they need it.
- Consider obstacles as learning experiences and opportunities to build new skills.
- Stay true to yourself and others by staying away from manipulation or deception. Prioritize your emotional well-being and those of others.
Previously published here.