In the suggestions below, I tried to be comprehensive, but in no way is this list to be considered exhaustive of characteristics of a high performing professional across any field or industry. Simply put, it is not enough to understand your job and to have the basic skills to do it, there are additional characteristics that are required to move your way into senior level position in a company. It requires an investment of your time and money, outside of the office. I do not claim to have mastered all of these traits, but I do try to work at each of them as often as possible.
1.) Academic Pedigree—As I noted in another post, it is really critical in this day and age to have as much academic accomplishment as possible. Most companies require all senior leaders to have a Masters degree, and many are sending their senior leaders back to school to achieve this to improve share holder and client confidence. As a company they want a measurable way to say “Look how smart our leaders are!” I would also include any professional certifications and licenses in this category.
2.) Academic Contributions—It is important to be involved in advancing academic work. It is necessary for the development of future leaders of tomorrow. Being involved in academia opens an entirely different professional perspective that you would not have had without that experience. In light of that experience it helps you to better understand how your field can advance, and makes you a more credible opinion on the subject. The basic message here is what you learn from your students and fellow instructors in academia, you will bring back to your “day job” practice, and this will make you a more valuable corporate contributor with enhanced credibility.
3.) Professional Documents—There are three professional documents that every professional should have on hand for sharing with networking contacts and for your own company’s use.
a. Curriculum Vitae (CV)—Highly detailed document that chronicles your professional experience, this is a living document that grows and grows accumulating pages and pages of data about your professional experience.
b. Resume—This is a two page document that serves as a snap-shot of your CV
c. Biography—This is a one page or less document that tells the narrative “story” of you
d. Executive pictures—Have professional pictures taken of you in a business suit to add to your CV, biography, or resume
4.) Publishing/Patents—In order to further your professional career and visibility as a subject matter expert, it is important to publish articles, white papers, and or books on the subject matter of your work. Today with the help of technology, having a blog supports this as well. If you are an innovator, remember that patents are a necessary part of your advancement as well. In the world of academics the phrase is "Publish or Perish!" in the world of innovation the phrase is "Patent or Perish!" If you straddle both academia and innovation, you certainly have your work cut out for you!
5.) Professional Dress—A professional always makes a great impression in professional business dress. Every time you dress down in business casual you are creating a professionally limiting situation. Here is an example; your leaders are havving a meeting today with a CEO of an organization or other high ranking professional from a potential client. The team is only as strong as its weakest link, and professional appearance is an important part of that link. You are called to the meeting to provide some subject matter expertise, and you are dressed down and everyone else is in a suit. I have made it a personal rule, to try to dress in a suit every day. I don’t want to be sidelined or excluded from an important opportunity based on my lack of professional attire. There are of course, various corporate cultures that have less strict dress requirements, but regardless, professional business attire adds to the strength of your presence. The old saying, "Dress for success!" still holds true.
6.) Public Speaking—Look for opportunities to do some public speaking on your subject matter of expertise. This may include conferences, internal company meetings, or for out-side audiences. I am a firm believer that any audience, is a good audience to speak too. Look for ladies/men groups, religious sponsored events, charity events, chamber of commerce. It is likely that someone in your audience will know someone else who may be interested in further dialogue about that subject. It’s a great way to network, and a great way to create professional visibility.
7.) Networking—It is inherent to American culture to network and to connect with as many people as possible who do anything and everything. Our culture thrives on that, as evidenced by social networking media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn , and so on. The more likely that you are able to bring in client referrals or investors, the more valuable you are to an organization. By joining various organizations related to your subject matter, can provide you with a networking edge. I have also been a believer in networking within the various chambers of commerce of the larger cities.
8.) Thank You Notes and Season’s Greetings—It does not matter what level of the organization you are in, it is important to write thank you notes. In the day and age of email, a hand written thank you is still a better “thank you”. If a colleague takes you out for lunch or helps you with a project, send a hand written “thank you”. It is not only the polite thing to do, but it will also make a great professional impression. This is not a gender biased rule of thumb, it is equally important for both men and women to do this. Keep a big box of “Thank you” notes in a desk, which makes it easier to follow through on this important task. During the holiday and new year season you should send a season greeting to each of your contacts, it is an important way to keep in touch and re-connect with colleagues and business contacts.
9.) Politics—It is crucial that you understand what is going on within politics at the local, state, federal, and global level as it relates to your field. It does not matter your political view, but having a clear understanding about the various political decisions that are being made and how it impacts your industry, is critical to the survival and advancement of your business. The better you are able to communicate your clear understanding of this to your company’s leadership, the more valued you will be to your company. Additionally, the more comfortable you are speaking with politicians and other leaders in government, the stronger your business acumen will be in the corporate setting. Your knowledge and political savvy will set you apart from your peers who aren’t as switched on as you.
10.) Stability and Flexibility at Home/Work Related Travel—It is hard for anyone to perform at their best in the office if things are not okay at home. One thing to be aware of, as you climb the corporate ladder, your home life and dynamics will change. Start planning how that flexibility will be built into your home life. If a spouse or both spouses are traveling a significant amount, childcare and other household responsibilities will need to be managed. You may need to consider childcare options by an outside care source, such as nannies, housekeepers, online grocery shopping, dry cleaning delivery, and so on. I have always been a proponent for boarding schools, for this reason of stability and for the academic advantage boarding school students have over those in a traditional school setting. If your work requires you to travel 50-100%, or perhaps you relocate several times in a year, a boarding school arrangement will provide more stability for your children and their education. Prepare marital /dating relationships for prolonged durations apart, and try to identify alternative a work-around for spending time together, such as virtual/webcam meetings and weekend meet-ups.
11.) Social Responsibility—As a high performing professional you will likely be compensated accordingly, therefore it is important to give back to organizations who are trying to make a positive difference in this world. If you are unable to volunteer your time, perhaps you can make a financial contribution. When your chosen charitable organization has fundraising events, do your best to attend and support those events. Look for opportunities for your company to contribute, and help to facilitate that support as a liaison between your company and the charitable organization.
12.) Environmental Responsibility—As a leader in your organization, your advocacy for thinking green is not only the right thing to do ethically, but also from a business perspective. The better you utilize resources, the better the financial performance. Additionally, as more green legislation is moved along, the more ahead of the curve that a company can be, the better the compliance and less regulatory headache the organization will experience. There are likely Green organizations that are formed within your industry, or by your industry to support your green initiatives.
13.) Global Awareness—If your goal is to take your company into a global market or if you are already there, it is important to create global contacts. One way to do this without travel is to connect with national leaders at the local consulate for the country’s market you may want to enter or work within. Introduce yourself and your company’s services to the consulate leaders. These folks can help provide you with some guidance on the best way to enter that market, or will facilitate your introduction to those who can do that for you. If you have an interest in entering an emerging market, an important book for you to read is “Fixing Failed States”, it offers insight on how to do business in these environment and the important considerations when entering these fragile and developing markets and economies. Also, remember that you are an American and no one outside of the US really likes you (although this is changing). To ensure greater success, try to enlist the help of a national from that country. You will have better success with your initiative.
14.) Coaches and Mentors—When looking for mentors, try to identify folks who are at the top in your field and learn as much as you can from them. They have likely published a great deal—read their work and then use that as an opportunity to communicate with them. Send them a letter or note, asking them thoughtful questions related to their work and your work. You will learn a great deal from them, and will be that more mature in your professional development from their advice and feedback. If you are already a senior leader in an organization, there are organizations that offer coaching services for senior level executives as well.
As a mentor yourself, take note of the success stories from your mentoring and coaching. These stories can be used to demonstrate your leadership skills as well as your ability to influence people to bring about a positive change.
In closing, as I said, this list is not exhaustive but it provides a good foundation for professional advancement. All of these characteristics take time to develop and build, but the sooner you start this process the better positioned you will be for professional advancement later on. Every good wish in your professional journey!