Show Me What You’ve Got

We learned it from the time we were wearing velcros in elementary school. It’s the ultimate show and tell life lesson: seeing is believing. What is a pet lizard or a Power Rangers action figure you talk about all the time if you don’t have the evidence to back it up?

Marilyn Braxton, Human Resources Lead at EPA, said, “It’s not about talking about your capabilities: it’s about putting yourself out there and showing yourself and others what you can do.”

At this year’s Next Generation Government Training Summit, Braxton taught us that moving up in your government career requires more than just talking. As a professional who started at her agency as a trainee and quickly rose to supervisor over the years, Braxton understands the benefits of showing people what you bring to the table.

She shared these three tips to help others achieve through show and not just tell:

  1. Show Your Aspirations. Have a vision, know what you want to achieve, and start working towards it. You need to know it and show it. At the same time, there’s a way to show your aspirations without advertising that you want to be promoted to the next GS level.

Braxton cited a famous TED Talk,  by Derek Sivers, called “Keep your goals to yourself.” Sivers said there are psychological tests that prove when we share our goals, it makes it more difficult to accomplish them. This is because when we acknowledge our goals, our mind is tricked into thinking we achieved it so we don’t work as hard towards the goal.

“It’s the difference between your manager saying ‘We know Susie wants GS 13’ vs. ‘Susie works like a GS 13,’” Braxton said. The first example shows how the manager heard about Susie’s goals but the second example shows the manager has seen what Susie is capable of. Braxton said the two statements also show the difference between finding a sponsor and earning one.

A sponsor is a mentor or someone who is a couple of grade levels above who can help you move up in the agency by vouching for you among other senior leaders. Braxton said you don’t really find a sponsor, you earn one. That’s why it’s important to show your aspirations by working hard rather than just talking about them.

  1. Look for Chaos. Accept any challenge that comes your way. Braxton cited the Marines concept of running towards chaos. “We can look for complex issues to try to solve,” she said. Ultimately, you can go from someone who just gets the job done to someone people depend on for organizational change. “Senior leaders want problem solvers,” Braxton added. “That’s why you should jump into a work group. Own it, shape it, and make it your own.”

Looking for chaos doesn’t mean throwing yourself into tasks you know you can’t handle. It means taking on calculated risks. Braxton had the opportunity to either move up in her organization where she’d been working for the past several years or start at an entirely new organization with a reassignment. What did she do? Even though she could have easily gotten the promotion, she took the reassignment. While she said it has been stressful, it has also been especially rewarding.

When you look for chaos like Braxton did, you demonstrate that you can jump into the unknown, problematic situation and work your way out of it. Want to jump into a scientific organization group when you have a budget background? Braxton said go for it. The truth is we actually thrive when we’re put in stressful situations.

  1. Stand Out. Braxton showed the audience an old company photo where her father used to work. He clearly stood out in the picture because he was the only person of color. Braxton said that people of color in those days had to be okay with being the first and being the only. They had no choice but to get used to the spotlight. Braxton’s father taught her that sometimes you need to be okay with being the odd person out. This means you’ll be even more noticed when you’re accomplishing in your workplace.

When you come in from the outside, you can make others in the organization see things in a way they never thought of them before. Figure out a way to make your unique perspective contribute to the whole.

Overall, Braxton taught us that you have to show what you’ve got and get comfortable with being uncomfortable, take calculated risks, and learn to embrace your unique perspective. No two paths are exactly alike. Find the one that’s right for you and don’t be afraid to show what you’re made of along the way.

This blog post is a recap of a session that took place at the recent Next Generation of Government Summit. Want to see more great insights that came out of NextGen? Head here.

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