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BirdsEye View

things i wish someone told me as a young banker

 My friend Lonnie Scarborough of Origin Bank shared these bullet points with me.  I found them to be poignant and relevant, so I’m sharing them with you with my own interpretations.  It should be noted, as Liat Bird wisely pointed out, that this article assumed a committed, benevolent and enlightened boss, someone who cares about their team and wants to see them grow and be successful.  Not all supervisors are as interested in their employee’s professional satisfaction and advancement.  This article is aimed at those of you who are fortunate enough to work in a positive environment, rather than at a place where maximizing production at all costs is the prevailing mantra.

NOTE: Both Liat and Gil reviewed this article and added their own invaluable perspectives.  As always, my work is far better thanks to their thoughtfulness, insights and knowledge.

1.  Formulate a vision.  

We should all ask ourselves as we embark on our career and start our first job:

a. Why am I here?  Why did I choose this bank, this job, this location?

b. What do I want to accomplish?

c. What am I willing to sacrifice and stretch to achieve your goals?  Am I prepared to invest more time in being successful?  More mind share?

Be intentional about this job.  Think through what you want to get out of the position and what you’re willing to give back.  How will this job help you build your personal brand and further your growth and learning?  Having a vision will get you where you want to go and will help you focus on what’s important to you.

2. Have self-discipline.

You should be in the driver seat.  Self-motivation is essential to both success and job satisfaction.  Guiding principles might include:

a. Own your mistakes and learn from them.  No excuses, reasons, apologies.  Acknowledgement of mistakes is both mature and instructive.  

b. Be a life-long learner.  As a young person you feel you know a lot, especially after much schooling and training.  While that may be so, continuous learning is the best way to grow and expand your brand and market value.  Unfortunately, experience can’t be taught, and there is no substitute for it.  Meld your contemporary knowledge with work experience to yield a winning combination.

c. Get outside your comfort zone.  Stretch, seek opportunities beyond your knowledge and experience base to learn flexibility and quick adaptation.  Challenge yourself beyond what others will. 

d. Think long-term: building a strong foundation for a life-long career takes time. Live with the disappointment of not being promoted when you think it’s time, not being recognized when you feel you should.  Accept that things will never go as fast as they can. 

e. Make a difference while gaining experience.

f. Respect yourself and others

i. We are all equal – regardless to rank, position etc.  Do not diminish those who lack your assets – education, money etc. – nor should you be in awe of senior executives.  

ii. Use your time wisely and be present at work.  Focus while you’re at work, without distractions or thinking of other tasks that need handling.  

iii. Volunteer for more work and responsibility.  The more valuable you are to your team and bosses, the faster you’ll advance and the more recognition you’ll get.  Become a reliable worker, someone who can be safely counted on to produce the desired result on time and in quality.  Think of how you would evaluate your staff if you were in charge, and follow that principal yourself.

iv. Gil’s addition: Communication, specifically with your direct supervisor and about time management, is something I have found tremendously valuable. I do not subscribe to the under- promise, over-deliver mantra, but I strongly abide by NEVER over-promise and under-deliver. I never accept a project without asking for a due date. It has been crucial to appropriately manage my time and manage my availability. It has also helped with gauging the resources needed to complete the project. Communications with my supervisor regarding timing and quality expectations is what allowed me to accept more responsibility and do a good job.  

v. More from Gil: In the same vein, communication in the form of asking questions has been a cornerstone to my career development. Never be afraid to ask; people are more often than not willing to share their knowledge generously. 

vi. Shoot for the stars.  Set your self-expectations sky-high.  Even if you fall short, you’ll still be way ahead of those who settle for less than the absolute best.

3. Prioritize.

One can spend 24/7 at work, especially as a young professional.  Make sure your life isn’t out of whack and that the balance you create between work and other life priorities is sustainable and acceptable.  Short-changing either aspect of your life is costly in the long-run.

4. Focus on what you can control.

You control your choices, attitude and actions.  These tools are sufficient to make you successful at work.  You can’t control the timing of your rewards, but you absolutely can control the input that will lead to just rewards.

In sum, here is what I told my kids when they entered the workforce:

Do your very best

Seek more work, responsibility, knowledge

Become a reliable and valuable resource to your boss: accept any task, do it brilliantly and on time

Believe that your excellence will be noticed – not on your timetable, not enough, but it will be.  

Share credit for accomplishments and even cede it.  People know who drives results, and generosity of spirit is an appreciated characteristic.

Be positive and enjoyable to be with.  Negativity is toxic. 

And, most importantly, do what makes you happy.  We spend way too much time at work not to enjoy it.