Two Proven Strategies to Get Promoted from Peon to President
When I first heard about Ken Parker, I thought someone was making him up.
In 1986, Ken stood before the broad campus of the giant utility Atlantic City Electric. He walked around back to the maintenance shed, donned a jumpsuit and began his first full-time job -- cutting the company's lawns.
18 years later, Parker again stood before the headquarters building of this utility which powers over half a million people. This time he walked in the front door, greeted his personal receptionist, pushed open the door marked "President" and sat down in his deep, plush leather chair.
Along the way, this African-American, Jersey boy earned his bachelor's degree from Delaware State University -- the first in his family to graduate or even attend college. As I write, Parker has advanced upward and now serves as director of Public Policy for Atlantic City Electric's parent company, Pepco Holdings, Inc.
Listening and Learning
"Come on, now Ken," I asked when we first chatted, "there must be something more to your success?" His was a true Horatio Alger story, and modestly Ken Parker was crediting it to hard work, always-do-your-best, and good fortune -- all the old chestnuts. Finally, after a bit of interrogation, President Parker gave me his success secret, which I call The Parker House Rule.
"When first handed a situation," he recalls, "I would go around to everybody who was connected, or in any way touched by this job, and ask them what they wanted from me. I listened, and wrote that down."
Ken Parker formed his idea of a new job's requirements partly based on his own common sense, but equally on the expectations and needs of all involved. Parker did more than take responsibility after the fact -- he foresaw the responsibility, from affected people's viewpoints, and adjusted his plan of action accordingly.
This Ask & See Rule sounds deceptively simple, but it requires a new discipline and an often-difficult attitude adjustment.
First, you have to actually create your own job description, in writing. Success is a campaign and, like Parker, you'll have to map out your strategies on paper. Put down the names. Write the expectations. Keep a running spreadsheet. Adopt the discipline of discerning the requirements of all involved, and develop a casual, friendly, non-pestering way of checking on these troops, and measuring your success in their eyes. (Don't neglect outside clients and contractors.)
Many employees have assured me that they check with others as a project begins, but Parker is the only one I've met who kept an ongoing ledger.
You've got to make that mental switch from merely accepting advice to seeing yourself as a master, forging colleagues into a resource team. Not so easy. Doubtless, when you first solicit requirements from others, you'll be beset with a host of complaints: "I don't need the software great, I need it Tuesday, and on time from you guys -- for once." Or "Clients aren't doing bells and whistles anymore -- they want friendly. For me to sell it, you've got to make it simple."
Additionally, some of these folks that you query may not be worthy of you. They may be not overly competent, or they're conspiring to undermine you. Welcome to the real world of business.
The key is to envision these affected individuals as a resource, helping you toward your goal. They become, in effect, a team -- your team, helping you achieve. No, they don't have to realize they are on your team. And no, they really don't require T-shirts. They'll probably see you merely as that nice guy who asks and tries to give them what they want. Your actions remain ever your own, but broadening your scope to consider their needs will win a few friends and help you perform better.
Dr. Stephen G. Payne, international consultant to major CEO's, agrees with this inclusive-team strategizing, but takes it one step further, to a more interpersonal level. Payne, an engineer who himself rose to CEO of a large firm before professionally passing on his wisdom, operates on his "Unleashing Principle."
As an exercise, he invites you to draw a circle with your own name in it. Then draw six other circles overlapping yours with the names of the people most influencing your work. The greater their influence, the more their circle should overlap yours. Mostly, this is an exercise in realization. Within the daily grind, we tend not to take stock of those influencing us.
Payne's premise that all people innately hold an urge to create something for the good, leads to his next unleashing step.
Examine each team member. Consider her talents and desires. Then see how you can unleash those talents in relation to the goal at hand. This may sound like manager's work, but it is not. Everyone around you is on your team. It doesn't matter if the HR department lists them as your boss or your underling. They are your fellow homo sapiens, all equal, and you have the opportunity to let them radiate and shine a little more. (Hint: You'll first have to unleash your own spirit.)
Blunder to Avoid: Don't act like the new kid. In all this asking and outreach, maintain the stance of a competent individual, striving to achieve better. Let the people you query in your Parker House process see you as fanatically focused on an improved product. Before you go asking, brush up on the history of your predecessor, and of how your new "teammate" operates. Be sage, not slack-jawed.
Mentor from the Pros: Within this article, you'll note that I've drawn on the wisdom from two major business leaders. Just as would-be writers read the literary masters, people seeking career success and satisfaction will benefit from studying those business authorities who've gone ahead. To help in this quest, I have compiled the disciplines, tips and techniques of many business leaders in "Business Basics." Hopefully this will serve as a source book for you. You can find this and other BartsBooks Ultimate Business Guides on www.BartsBooks.com.
The Parker and Payne strategies of honing performance by discerning others needs, and then helping those individual unleash their own potential, have proven a practical benefit for many. However, unless you dwell in a Gilbert & Sullivan fable, the odds of your landing in the president's leather chair with these means alone are slim indeed.
I'd like to know from you readers, what techniques work for you? What mindsets and disciplines help you play profitably with others?
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