Got Enough Drive to Advance Your Career? 5 Lessons from High Achievers

Yesterday, I had the privilege of closing out GovLoop’s State and Local  Innovators Virtual Summit with a video chat that covered career advice for government professionals. In preparing for the chat, I reflected a bit on the traits I’ve observed in the most successful people across my 20-year career.

The main distinction I’ve seen is that people who advance most quickly are particularly ambitious and proactively take charge of their career. Another way of saying that: they have DRIVE. So I’d like to take that word as the outline to share 5 tips for career advancement

Develop your knowledge and skills.

Successful people never stop learning. They are always seeking ways to gain new knowledge or acquire fresh skills. They don’t wait for the next formal training opportunity. They recognize that 70% of learning is informal and seize every opportunity to read an blog post, watch a video or listen to a podcast to discover one kernel that gives them an edge.

Resource Tip: If you’re reading this blog post, you already know that GovLoop is a great place to find that kind of informal learning. I’d also like to point out that we launched a new resource this year called GovLoop Academy where we’re creating dozens (and eventually hundreds!) of free, short courses designed to help you get smarter in a variety of topics that are important in government.

Respond to feedback with gratitude.

How do you react when someone shreds your latest writing project? How do you respond when a boss or colleague shares sincere, constructive feedback? Most people get upset or take it personally. They chalk it up to failure. Successful people say, “thank you.” They know they have blind spots and recognize that every ounce of input is another data point revealing an area for improvement.

Also, let’s face it: most of us hate conflict and would rather avoid giving or receiving information that could be confrontational. So if your peer or manager musters the courage to engage in a difficult conversation that’s meant to help you grow, treat it like a gift and express appreciation for their investment in you.

Inspire others with a positive attitude.

Every job has its share of challenges. I’ve find that the most successful people remain unruffled in the face of frustrations. When stress levels rise and tensions peak, we look to those people who stay positive and carry a sense of calm in the storm. In fact, I have a quote next to my desk, which says:

“The more tranquil a [person] becomes, the greater their success, their influence, their power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.”

– James Allen

If you can train yourself to become more composed in direct correlation to the amount of anxiety that is rising around you, I guarantee you’ll stand out, be given more responsibility and rise through the ranks faster than your peers. In fact, you just may be downright inspiring.

Value input from others

All too often, professionals feel as if they need to figure out a problem on their own. There seems to be an unwritten rule that it’s noble to lock yourself away, think deeply about the issue and emerge with a brilliant solution. In its more sinister manifestation, this behavior is a way for folks with information to retain power and control. The mindset is that sharing makes them vulnerable and allows others to coopt or claim credit for their ideas.

Successful people seek input from others early and often. They generate quick drafts – prototypes of partially baked concepts – and open themselves to questions and observations sooner rather than later. Then they coalesce that data and iterate on their original thinking. In the end, they not only prepare a better solution, but they’ve gained insights and buy in from a number of key stakeholders along the way.

Note: this input need not be limited to people within your organization. If the problem you’ve solving doesn’t involve classified or sensitive information, there are likely many other individuals across government that have addressed the same challenge and share insights and lessons learned. Reach out to colleagues directly via LinkedIn, attend networking events or post your problem in GovLoop’s discussion forums. All of us are smarter than any one of us – and high achievers leverage the wisdom of the crowd.

Engage a mentor!

Lastly, there is one specific type of person that should be available to you for input, and that’s a mentor. Finding a mentor can be as informal as reaching out to someone that you admire – someone who is further along in your field of expertise or has a set of knowledge or skills you’d like to acquire. Of course, you can also join a formal program in your agency or as part of an association.

GovLoop also hosts a formal, six-month program that runs from May – October each year. We accept rolling applications for our competitive program, selecting the top 100 candidates for the chance to match with our 250+ mentors. They attend in-person and online events, develop a personal action plan with goals and target dates, then work with their mentor to get advice and achieve them. It’s a virtual program, with more than 50% of our participants located outside of the Washington, DC, area, including participants from federal, state and local government. Over 90% of pairings connect with people from different agencies and the same percentage continue their mentoring partnership beyond the program.

GovLoop’s State and Local Innovators Virtual Summit is available on-demand here. Also, be sure to read the other recaps here.

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