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Mind the Gap

How do I stand out from my peers?

Posted by Amanda Whiteford

This question is often posed at our career conferences. The critical point is to realise your innate strengths, not talk down the ‘opposition’, after all, you are all colleagues and all need each other to deliver organisational goals, innovate and move the business forward. So how can you, positively, stand out from the crowd?

Know your strengths, those innate abilities that come easily to you which many others may admire and envy from afar! Many people fail to appreciate their strengths because they don’t have to work hard at them. For example, being an engaging communicator, being able to explain complex information simply, seeing the patterns in the numbers and knowing instinctively that they don’t add up. Whatever your strengths are, nurture them and develop them to the full. When you are as technically competent as your colleagues, it’s your particular strengths that will help you stand out from the crowd.

Take roles and opportunities that allow you to use those strengths to the full and demonstrate where you can add the most value to the business. This will also allow you to develop and expand your networks as you’ll be able to talk to people about what you are working on and achieving, what you find exciting and enjoy doing. Never overlook the many opportunities to talk about work positively, without boasting. There’ll be times when the answer to “how’s it going?” really does just warrant a “fine thanks” response, but there’ll be even more times when the answer “really well, we’ve just delivered phase one of our project on time to budget” will be appropriate, and provide a great opportunity to engage others in what you are doing and how much you are enjoying it.

Tell a good story. Don’t just have a phrase or two to hand for such impromptu moments, also talk about results and weave these into a story. For example, you might talk about delivering a new system, how it has improved productivity and made life easier for colleagues and what you learned from working on the project.

In looking for opportunities to develop and use your strengths don’t forget to look outside your department or team, to volunteer for new initiatives, and even look outside of work too. For example, experience gained managing your local amateur football team can provide valuable leadership development not least because whatever you achieve will require you to do so with no formal power!

Recognise your weaknesses and manage these well, so they don’t trip you up or derail your career aspirations. This involves being really honest with yourself about areas in which you do not shine and have little interest in developing. Use these insights to choose the right roles and opportunities and know which to decline, to design out of your role (where possible) those elements which do not play to your strengths but do play to the strengths of others, or to seek help and support for aspects of your work which you cannot design out or delegate.

Be curious. It’s amazing how many highly educated, skilled people at work, take little or no interest in their business sector or the organisation they work for outside their immediate department or team. Just by being curious, reading the business press, looking for changes and developments that might impact your work or organisation and being able to articulate this to managers and peers will make you stand out. It may also help you develop your networks. For example, if you don’t really know how another team or function fits within the overall picture, or how their work dovetails with yours, then ask if you can spend a lunchtime or two sitting with them to find out more and answer the questions you have. People are always flattered when others take an interest in what they do and really engage with the purpose and contribution of their department.

Work hard and keep focused when at work. This doesn’t mean working excessive overtime, simply ensure that when you are at work you are productive. There will be times when it’s right to stop and chat about last night’s TV viewing or football game, but don’t let this take over all your interactions to the point some people wonder whether you ever do any work at all!

Finally, support your colleagues. Being a supportive, considerate colleague will help you build strong relationships in work and these people, in turn, will assist you when you need it. If you aspire to management, being seen as a manager who is genuinely interested in the development of others as well as yourself will enhance your ability to recruit good people to your team.

It’s easy to think if you work in a large team of engineers, analysts or nurses that you’ve no way of standing out from the crowd as you all share the same technical expertise. Don’t be fooled though – how we behave at work, how we utilise and share our strengths for the benefit of others and the organisation is what really makes the difference and what senior managers will notice.