Three character traits that hold you back in your career

Knowledge, expertise and talent will take you far. But my 20 years’ experience as a leadership coach has shown me that people struggling to get ahead in their careers invariably need to work on one of three things: confidence, time management or social skills. If you’re struggling with any of these areas, here’s how to tackle them.

Confidence
Self-limiting beliefs: we’ve all got them. That little voice that says: “you’re not good enough”, “I’ll never be as good as her”, or “if I do this I might fail”.

Even the most outwardly successful and confident people have insecurities. But they’ve learned to challenge unhelpful beliefs.

First, you need to identify beliefs that are holding you back – for example, you might find yourself thinking: “I can’t get my voice heard at meetings”.

Second, ask yourself: “What is the consequence for my career if I carry on believing this?” Third, understand where this belief comes from. It’s often something learned from childhood or another experience. Fourth, look for counter-evidence – something that shows the belief is not true – at least not all of the time. Lastly, choose a new belief, such as: “I can get my voice heard if I prepare a couple of questions in advance” and put it into practice.

Time management
Some people’s weakness is time management. We’ve all got too much to do and too little time. Here are five ways to get more done without working harder.

First, block out daily or weekly thinking time. Go somewhere quiet. Think about the most important things you need to do today or this week.

Second, write a priority list (rather than a to-do list). Record your top priority each day or week. Keep it somewhere visible.

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Third, do your most important tasks when you have most energy. Early morning? Late afternoon? Work with your body clock, not against it.

Fourth, don’t check your emails first thing. You’re on the back foot responding to other people and they are dictating your day. If it’s urgent, they’ll find you.

Lastly, be honest: do you avoid doing the difficult things using the excuse that you’re “too busy”? Are there things you never get round to doing even though they are really important? You might have identified a self-limiting belief you need to work on.

Influence and friendship
Think about the successful people you love working with and learn the most from. They may be extrovert or introvert, they may or may not be charismatic. But what they have in common is their ability to influence, connect and build relationships with other people. This may be something that comes naturally to them, but it’s something we can all learn and practise.

This ability will help you to build trust and communicate in a way that people understand. It’ll help you get buy-in and get people working with you rather than against you. It’s an absolutely key skill for success. Start with these five things:

1. Be genuinely interested in others. Small talk helps more important conversation to happen, so don’t underestimate its importance. Ask questions that begin with what? how? and when? Leave space for the person to respond.

2. Listen to the language people use. This gives us lots of clues about how to influence them. Do they want facts and figures? Details or headlines? An email or a conversation? Don’t assume. Listen and ask.

3. First impressions count. Do you scuttle into a room like a frightened rabbit or do you march in, take over and dominate? Think about how you’d like to be perceived. Then act accordingly.

4. Ask three people you trust to give you one specific piece of advice on how to improve your influence or communication. We all have blind spots. Once we know what they are we can do something about them.

5. Study the people who influence and connect well. What can you learn from them?

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