January 07. 2013 9:00AM

Advance your career: Steps to improve your professional life

Personal Growth

By Joan Lloyd

  
Here are some steps you can take to advance your career in the new year.

Let your voice be heard at least one time in every meeting.

How many meetings are you in every month? I'll bet it's too many to count. And in how many of those meetings can you honestly say you added value? If you are silent, you may as well not even be there. Or worse, if you speak up after the meeting – in the hallway, or among your friends – you are actually undermining the purpose for the meeting.

You may not think you have anything to contribute, or you may be intimidated by other people in the room. But the only way to get past those self-effacing fears is to start talking. Knowing you are going to say at least one thing in each meeting is going to make you listen harder, because you are going to offer an opinion, or ask a question.

When you begin to contribute in meaningful ways to the daily events and decisions, your credibility will grow. You will become someone others turn to – and listen to. This is particularly relevant if you are a minority member of a group. For example, research has shown that women in a predominantly male environment tend to get talked over and their ideas end up being attributed to someone else, because they don't speak up with enough frequency and they don't hold the floor long enough to make their point, or pitch their idea.

Get visibility and build credibility by leading three initiatives.

If you are a manager, step up and propose something new. Perhaps there is an archaic process that needs to be overhauled; or a sticky personnel issue that needs a better policy; or a quality improvement measure that needs to be created.

If you are an independent contributor (a specialist with no direct reports), assert yourself and get involved in a project that will improve a product or service. Reach out to colleagues in other areas and collaborate on ways to work better across departments.

Regardless of your job title, stand up and offer to lead an effort to make an improvement – whether it's on your own job, or something beyond your job description, such as recommending a new office supply ordering system.

Speak in front of a group at least two times.

It doesn't have to be a large group, but standing up and speaking in front of any group is one of the best career builders there is. Perhaps you can be invited to speak to your own team, to share what you learned at a conference you attended. Or, maybe you can speak at a department meeting to give a project update. You may be able to speak at an outside professional meeting – introducing the speaker, or announcing upcoming events. Any time you speak, you build more confidence.

If you are a manager or senior executive, presentations are a part of your job. If you are not happy with your performance, why aren't you doing something about it? It is so important to your credibility it's foolish to erode your own reputation. Resolve to get some feedback and work with a colleague who does it well, to polish your slides and your delivery. You may even want to get some professional coaching to take your performance to a whole new level.

Name five people you would turn to for help if you lost your job.

Having trouble thinking of anyone? Look around … how many of your friends and relatives were caught by surprise when they lost their jobs? They didn't think it would happen to them – but it did. Be smart and cultivate contacts long before you need them. Start by thinking like you're unemployed. Who do you know in your field who has a good reputation and is well-connected? If you called a former boss, would he or she introduce you to others and give you a good reference? If you decided to start your own business, do you have any connections to people who could help you?

Reach out now and schedule a get-together in the new year. Find out what they are up to and be proactive about providing them information or introductions to people who may be able to help them. Good networkers know that you should give before you get. Don't wait until you need help – offer it first.

Successful careers aren't built by getting the perfect job in the perfect company. They come from taking the small steps, day after day, year after year. When you look back, you'll see how far you've come – even in one short year.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational & leadership development strategist. She has a proven track record spanning more than 20 years, and is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates (414) 354-9500, info@joanlloyd.com, www.JoanLloyd.com.

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