Are you a spider or an ant? Which insect do you resemble more? And which one do you aspire to be?
I’m not talking about whether you live in a web or an anthill. But we can learn a lot by observing these small creatures—especially about ourselves.
Here are three ways to evaluate how you operate in a professional setting based on observations of the spider and the ant.
Several years ago, I oversaw some annual events for the organization I worked for. Sometimes several dozen people would attend, sometimes a smaller number. But regardless of the number of attendees, there were innumerable details that had to be coordinated. And to handle all those details, I turned to Beth. I knew as soon as I handed the event off to Beth, it was as good as done, because she came back to me only if she had questions. She handled every single detail with perfect ease. She could run an intimate event, a small conference, or even a large convention. That’s because she took ownership of whatever she was asked to do.
I remember the many phone conversations with Beth. I would ask her, “What do we need to do about this?” And she would inevitably say, “Already taken care of.” While still on the call, I would think of something else and ask, “Have you been able to deal with that?” And again, she would say, “I’ve already got it covered.”
Beth led by taking ownership of her role. She understood what was expected of her, and she expanded her role by thinking through everything that was involved with her responsibilities. As a result, her job was done well, and the organization benefited as well.
By being willing to pitch in and do what is necessary, you will become invaluable to everyone around you. You do not have to wait for someone else’s permission to take ownership of your situation. Your boss wants you to take charge of your job. Here are three specific actions you can focus on in your workplace to take ownership of your role.
Many years ago I worked for a guy I’ll call Greg. Working with Greg was awkward. He badmouthed his boss in the office, but in public he spoke favorably about him. To outsiders, he seemed like a good team player, but those of us who worked for him knew otherwise. Then Greg got a promotion that gave him even greater autonomy. His role involved more travel and he had more opportunities to represent his boss and the organization. While he was competent at what he did, he still did not have a positive opinion of his boss.
One day, Greg’s opinions caught up to him. He was dismissed for disloyalty to his boss and to the organization. Despite getting caught, he did not express remorse over how he handled the situation. Instead he blamed his boss.
When Greg said disparaging things about his boss, it was less a statement about his boss and more a statement about himself. While he represented his boss he also represented himself, and what he said about his boss within the office reflected poorly on himself.
When you represent your boss, you also represent yourself. How you conduct yourself representing your employer says a lot about you. Perhaps you complain about your employer to others so that they will join you in complaining about their employers. At best, it drags you down to a lower level. At worst, it poisons your relationship with other people and damages your prospects at getting employed elsewhere.
It is up to you whether you change your attitude and choose to represent yourself and your employer in a way that honors both you and your company. No one can improve your attitude for you. You have to be the one who will decide to change your attitude.
Whether you deal directly with customers or not, you represent your employer to people in your sphere of influence. Here are three areas in which you should monitor your attitude to represent yourself and your organization well.
At one place I worked, I facilitated the onboarding process for new hires from around the country. I guided them through their orientation as well as their introduction to their initial corporate training. During this time, these new hires were exposed to the depth of the organization. They discovered for the first time all the services their employer provided to clients. Even though it might have felt overwhelming, they got a full picture of the capabilities of their new employer. By learning of all the ways they could be a part of serving their clients, they gained a new perspective.
In the sixth chapter of 2 Kings, the Scripture shows how important a new perspective is. After the prophet Elisha had repeatedly warned the king of Israel of the Syrian king’s battle plans, one night the infuriated king of Syria travelled to the city where Elisha was in order to capture him. The next morning, Elisha’s servant woke up to see this vast army surrounding the city. Consequently, the servant was terrified.
And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15b-17)
Elisha had a perspective that his servant did not have. Only when his servant looked at the situation the same way Elisha did was he able to see what Elisha could see. It is easy to assume that your perspective is the only one. But your perspective may not be accurate. There may be some information that you are not aware of, like Elisha’s servant discovered. What you don’t know can affect how you see the situation. Therefore, it is important for you to be willing to look beyond your own perspective.
Take time to reflect before you pass judgment on your boss or your workplace. Realize that there may be more to the situation than meets your eye.
Stepping back to see the big picture helps you understand how everything at your workplace fits together. This new perspective can help you realize there may be more going on that you were initially aware of, as the new hires discovered at their orientation.
Here are three ways you can look at your role at your workplace to gain a new perspective.
Many years ago I worked with a guy I’ll call Brian. He was a go-getter. He was pro-active and responsible, but he had an unpredictable side. Once, Brian heard about a job he thought I would like, and he let me know about it. I applied for the position and got the job. Soon after, a job opening was announced in a different division in my workplace, and I thought it might be a fit for Brian. At the same time, I had this gnawing concern that it might not work out because of Brian’s unpredictability. After debating back and forth with myself, I decided to tell Brian about the job—and recommend him for it—because he had told me about the job I currently had. I thought it was the right thing to do. But I still had that gnawing concern: Would he show respect to his boss?
Not surprisingly, Brian got the job. Being the go-getter he was, he was not used to sitting and watching the extensive number of training videos required for the job. Every time I talked to Brian he seemed antsy. He wanted to do something. He knew he could contribute to the organization, but he didn’t understand why his boss had him go through so much training that he deemed unnecessary.
One day Brian’s frustration hit a breaking point. He flew off the handle and said things to his boss that he shouldn’t have said. As a result, he was fired on the spot. His actions in response appeared threatening, so he ended up being physically escorted off the premises.
Brian was a good worker, but his lack of respect for his boss got him fired. Perhaps you can sympathize or even relate with Brian. Perhaps you’ve had the same thing happen to you. Regardless of how you feel about what happened to Brian, he still needed to show respect to his boss.
Like Brian, you must be willing to respect your boss, even if you think your boss is wrong. Here are three ways to show respect to your boss.
It’s no fun to have to lead in turbulent times. But if you haven’t had to do it yet, most likely you will have to do it at some point in your life. It may happen to you in your workplace where you have to navigate disruption in your company from outside—or inside—forces. It may happen to you at home if you have to deal with family transition or disintegration. No matter where you encounter it, it will likely not be fun. But it will make you reach deep within to lean on leadership abilities that you didn’t know you had.
In 1 Samuel 30, David had to reach deep within to lead in turbulent times. David and his crew came back to his home base at Ziklag, only to find that the Amalekites burned the city with fire, stole their goods, and took all their families captive. David’s men were inconsolable, and David was greatly concerned when his men talked about stoning him (1 Samuel 30:1-6a).
While you may never have to face something as dire as David did, you will likely think that you are—at least at the time. As a result, it is worth your while to know how to lead yourself and others in turbulent times. Here are three keys to remember when you are going through trials of your leadership abilities.
God is not impressed by what you do for a living. And you should not be either. But what does matter to God is how you do what you do. God wants you to work from the heart.
Here’s what Colossians 3:22-25 (MSG) says:
Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.
God wants you to work hard at whatever you do. He wants you to do your best. And He wants you to work from the heart.
Here are three things you should keep in mind as you do your work.
Many people want to move forward, but they are worried about making the next step. They are concerned that they will make a mistake. Or look foolish. Or both. But the only way to move forward is to be willing to walk out in faith and take that next step.
In professional life, there is always the chasm between where you are and where you want to go. And there is so much uncertainty between the start and the finish. But the only way you can get to where you want to go is to risk making a mistake. Or looking foolish. Or both.
Here is the process to implement if you are to embrace uncertainty and become comfortable with taking the next step.
Do you know yourself well enough to know what you’re good at? Knowing what you’re good at help you know how to apply yourself.
Before I committed to writing a blog, I didn’t know that I was a good writer. I thought I could be a good writer, but I didn’t know I was a good writer. That is, until I started writing.
How well do you know yourself? How willing are you to find out how good you are at things that you would like to do? And how much are you willing to invest yourself in doing those things?
Here’s an inventory to use to find what you’re good at—and you can also use it as a blueprint to develop yourself. For this exercise, you’ll need a piece of paper and a pencil—and an eraser in case you mess up.
When I matriculated at the University of Virginia for my undergraduate degree, I started as a first-year student, not as a freshman. As I progressed through school, I became a second-year, third-year, and fourth-year student. The grades were intentionally named that way. The idea was that after four years, students would be ready to graduate (hopefully) from the university, but they would continue their learning even after they graduated. The purpose of naming the grades in progression was to encourage all their students to have an attitude of being self-educated.
As a professional, you will need to cultivate a lifelong learning perspective. You will progress in your career better if you keep that attitude throughout your working life. You will also feel more fulfilled personally as a result of always growing in your knowledge.
Here’s a process for keeping yourself self-educated.