Mackay: How do you get better at your job?

When I am hired to speak to a company or association, I typically try to get a better sense of the group beforehand. I ask a few early arrivals about creative selling, teamwork, negotiations, how they get close to their customers and so on. Then I surprise them and ask what they do to get better at their jobs.

Answers I’ve received include: going back to school to learn new skills or get another degree, joining trade organizations and networking, listening to speakers, reading everything they can get their hands on, being more available, working harder and smarter, improving people skills and many more.

These are all great ideas, but I’d like to add to the list and share some of my ideas:

Improve your time management. Most people fail because they let time manage them. Time becomes a crook. Often it’s the people who make the worst use of their time who complain there is never enough of it.

Get organized. This will not only improve your productivity, but it will streamline your life, lower your stress and save you money. The Wall Street Journal reported that the ­average U.S. executive wastes six weeks per year retrieving misplaced information from messy desks and files.

Stay positive. Positive thinking is more than just a tagline; I firmly believe that when I’m positive, it not only makes me better, but it also makes those around me ­better. Positive thinking turns obstacles into opportunities.

Write down your goals. Goals give you more than a reason to get up in the morning; they are an incentive to keep you going all day. Goals tend to tap deeper resources and draw the best out of life.

Learn to compromise. Compromise often is looked upon as weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Business involves constant compromise — negotiating contracts, hiring, closing sales and so on. ­Compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that all parties think they got the biggest piece.

Exercise your mind and body. Taking care of business starts with taking care of yourself. Exercise makes me feel better and gives me energy to work more productively. My philosophy is, exercise doesn’t take time; it makes time.

Develop your confidence. Even the most successful people have struggled with a lack of confidence in their careers. The good news is that it can be developed just like any muscle or character trait. Some tips: Improve your skills, keep track of your successes, practice being assertive and step out of your comfort zone.

Improve your relationship with your boss. A good relationship with your boss is the foundation of a successful career. Your boss is the person most likely to recognize your contributions and achievements and potentially recommend you for promotions. Strive for a positive work environment.

Surround yourself with mentors and coaches. You can’t do it all by yourself. Seek out the very best help you can find to take your game to the next level. On the flip side, don’t shy away from mentoring younger workers because business is a team sport.

Practice public speaking. Most people dread public speaking, but few skills are more important. Public speaking improves your confidence and communication skills and helps you think better on your feet. How you say things can be as important as what you say. Join Toastmasters International, one of the best-kept secrets in the world. (I did.)

Learn to love feedback. If you are open to accepting feedback, you can learn from not only your manager, but also from colleagues and ­customers. If you really believe in yourself, you’ll be open to criticism, learn from it and improve your ­performance.

Mackay’s Moral: Improvement begins with I.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.

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