How to succeed at work: Is George Costanza right?

August 12, 2011 — Leave a comment

Do you know how to succeed at work?  If so, you’ll have a much better shot of receiving raises and promotions.

If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you might know where this is going… But, if you’re not, the quirky character George Costanza gives his advice on how to succeed: simply look busy.

It’s not just about looking busy, Costanza believes there’s an art to it!  He says the key to succeeding at work is to look annoyed.  In fact, his theory is: if you act annoyed, you’ll always seem busy!  While admittedly this might work for a while, it’s probably not the best advice!

What can you do to succeed at work?

According to Rabbi Daniel Lapin in his book Thou Shall Prosper, there are three things to start doing to succeed in an entry level job to succeed at work:

1.  Show up regularly and on time
2.  Obey instructions
3.  Speak and act respectfully

Seriously, anyone can do those three things.  They may sound ridiculously simple, but my parents gave this advice when I was young, and it worked for me.  It’s amazing how hard those three items are for some people.

I worked for my Dad as a maintenance man/janitor at my high school.  It was a pretty crappy job (pun intended) but it was actually very rewarding.  I showed up on time, did what my boss instructed, and was always respectful of my coworkers.

It’s sad to say, but what I learned in that job has helped me more in life than most other jobs I’ve had!

Maybe that’s why I can relate to what Andrew Carnegie believed when he said, “It is not the rich man’s son that the young struggler for advancement has to fear in the race of life, nor his nephew, nor his cousin.  Let him look out for the “dark horse” in the boy who begins by sweeping out the office.”

This is the path I’ve taken and it has led me to succeed at work.

Following Lapin’s three earlier suggestions will help you get ahead, but to succeed at work you need to work smart.  Use the points below to work smart.

1.  Find advocates of you
2.  Help others get what they want
3.  Follow the 80/20 rule in work
4.  Work for people you like and admire

So, what do these really mean?

1.  Find advocates of you

One of the most important ways to succeed at work is to find, and work, for people who are advocates for you.

While working as a business and IT consultant at Accenture, we had an annual reviews where everyone was ranked against each other.  To make it even tougher, a group of leaders discussed each person behind closed doors before ranking them. If you didn’t have someone who knew the great work you did and wasn’t afraid to fight for you, you wouldn’t do well in the rankings.

Sometimes, I was forced to be direct and find an advocate and ask them for help.  It made all the difference in my rankings.  Give it at try – find a leader in your workplace and directly ask for their help.

However, there is a catch.  You must have their respect first.  You can get their respect simply by doing great work, or developing a great relationship.

Now that you have their ear, let them know what you’re doing.  Keep a list of tasks you’ve done exceptionally well and discuss it with them.

If you are a workplace leader or boss, you shouldn’t be above this idea.  The people who work for you can also be great advocates.  You shouldn’t make them say good things about you, but if they like and respect you as a leader – they can let your boss know.

Before you start looking for an advocate to help you at work, remember: you must also be an advocate for yourelf.

Many people are so humble they won’t speak up for themselves and the great work they do.  Don’t consider it bragging, other people need to know.  Keep a list of major accomplishments and items you are proud of – it will come in handy when you talk to your boss or your new advocate.

2.  Help others get what they want

We live in a selfish world.  However, to succeed in work, you must help others get what they want.  Zig Ziglar says the best way to get what you want in life is to help others get what they want.

This could mean you help your boss, your co-workers, or the people who work for you.  Helping others get what they want fosters a positive work environment and also means those people will step up to the plate for you when you need help.

3.  Follow the 80/20 rule in work

The 80/20 rule applies to many situations, but I believe it works perfectly in the workplace.  The rule? You should spend 80% of your time on 20% of the most valuable tasks or assignments.  We’re always going to be overloaded at work, and if you try to perfect everything, you’ll be left in a state of mental and physical anguish.

This doesn’t mean you slack off on the other 80% of the activities.  They still have to be completed, but you need to realize you might have to occasionally take a ‘good enough’ approach towards them.

4.  Work for people you like and admire

The quote by Warren Buffett sums it up.  “I choose to work with every single person that I work with. That ends up being the most important factor. I don’t interact with people I don’t like or admire. That’s the key. It’s like marrying.”

Do your best to choose people you admire and can learn from.  I know this can be difficult in a typical job because you might get stuck with a certain boss or co-workers.  We don’t all have the power of Buffett.  However, you shouldn’t just give up.

Find people you like and respect and spend more time with them.  You might even try to transfer to a different department under the guise of learning a new skill.

I had one particularly bad experience working for a manager I (and all of the people around me) despised.  He was power hungry and led through intimidation.  I saw him make at least five people cry.  Seriously!  He was very power hungry and got off on it.

It was an 8 month project, but I knew at the end of it I’d be able to get away from him.  I vowed to never work for him again and I avoided him the rest of my career.

These are the methods I’ve learned and try to use to succeed at work.  However, I’m not above using the occasional Costanza tip on a tough Monday!

Follow the steps outlined above to succeed in an entry level job as well as in your career.  Working hard will only get you so far, you must work smart to get ahead.  Working smart is a key part of taking control of your life.  Check it out the entire plan for some more tips.

How you found any particular strategies to help you succeed at work?


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