How to Get Ahead Without Pushing Everyone Else Off the Ladder

By Jim Morris

Problem Solving Team

Not everything in life is an either/or proposition. You can have a morning coffee and an afternoon coffee, you can like both cats and dogs, and you can balance your desire to get ahead and your genuine interest in being a team player.

Some people fear that caring about their co-workers’ success means getting lost in the crowd and that it’ll interfere with moving up the ladder. But that’s not necessarily true.

Great teams are full of good people, which means, you don’t have to pick whether you’ll put yourself first or be a strong collaborator. Here are three ways to show off your leadership skills and support your co-workers at the same time:

1. Build Trust

The basis of a strong team is trust, so work on cultivating honest relationships with your colleagues. Telling the truth—be it sharing your flaws or opening a difficult, but needed, conversation—will simultaneously make you a stand-out and strengthen your work relationships.

For example, say your team attends a launch meeting where someone from corporate presents a new policy. The more you hear about it the worse it sounds—and everyone around the room looks equally puzzled and displeased.

Be the person at the end of the meeting who diplomatically, but honestly asks: “Can you explain a little bit more about how this will help the whole organization so I understand how to best prioritize this initiative?”

By asking this simple question, you’re not being rude—but rather getting clarification that’ll benefit your whole team while acknowledging aloud this will require other responsibilities shifting.

2. Volunteer for the Hard Stuff

Step outside your comfort zone and volunteer to work on difficult jobs others are hesitant to take-on—even if there is a chance you could fail.

People who are always trying to look good at the expense of doing what needs to be done are usually resented by their co-workers, because they’re not really pitching in. Whereas people who do what needs to be done—and are willing to take a risk—are admired.

Taking on these tough tasks, whether they’re new and there’s no roadmap for success, or will require extra effort or time, will impress your boss. And stepping up to do what needs to be done helps your co-workers, too.

3. Be Accountable

It’s not enough to contribute to department goals. Being a real team player means letting people know if you’re falling behind—and sooner rather than later.

Say you’re supposed to turn in important research data points for a group project by Friday, but you’re way behind. You might be tempted to say nothing, work extra hours, and see if you could pull it off by deadline, so no one knows you weren’t 100% on top of things.

However, if you can’t get it done, you will have held everyone up. Telling others well in advance may allow them to assign the work to someone else or adjust their collective expectations.

Speaking up early—even if it keeps you from saving face—demonstrates you’re willing to put the success of the overall project over your reputation. That’s modeling good team behavior and good leadership behavior.

Of course you want to advance your career, so don’t feel like you have to hide it. You were hired because you have a solid work ethic and are ambitious. But in most cases, if you want to move up, you’ll also need to be a strong team member, because working well with others will help you add the most value.

So, you don’t have to choose ambition or being a team player to be successful. Learn to do both, or either, depending on the situation. Your future depends on your ability to be adaptable to the situation, so adapt!


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