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How You Can Be Proactive and Boost Your Career

Successful professionals do not passively react to events in the American workplace. Instead, they are proactive. They actively manager their careers. They master the politics of the workplace. They take the initiative to influence what happens around them.

Unfortunately ,because of cultural differences, many foreign-born professionals shy away from such assertive behavior. Consequently, you may be viewed by your managers and others as not proactive, and so your careers suffer.

You must develop a proactive mindset if you wish to accelerate your career in the American workplace.

4 Strategies for Being Proactive

Expanding on our previous discussions about being proactive, we focus here on the following four key strategies for being proactive in the workplace:

  1. Anticipate problems and events

  2. Seek feedback

  3. Take the initiative

  4. Plan ahead.

#1. Anticipate Problems and Events

Proactive people are forward looking. They are clear about their goals.

They develop strategies to influence powerful people in the workplace in order to achieve their goals. They prepare for potential threats and dangers that might derail their goals.

In other words, proactive professionals know how to get things done in the workplace.

One key to getting things done is to understand your manager’s world and their specific situation in the workplace. You can use this knowledge to influence your manager and get what you want.

Therefore, proactive professionals make it a priority to learn and understand key information about their manager, such as:

  • All that their job entails

  • Whom they report to

  • How their performance is measured

  • The organizational forces that affect them

  • Their management style

  • Their values.

Why is this information valuable? Because it helps you to develop a deliberate method for interacting with your manager. Based on this information, you know what to do to help your manager succeed.

In turn, you are in a better position to get what you need in terms of cooperation, information, approval, and other resources to get your own job done and, ultimately, to advance your career.

#2. Seek Feedback

Proactive professionals do not wait for their formal performance reviews to receive feedback.

Instead, they actively and regularly seek feedback from a variety of sources, including their managers, peers, direct reports, friends, and professional coaches.

Here are guidelines to help you request feedback offered by Paula Caproni, author of Management Skills for Everyday Life: The Practical Coach:

  • Choose people you trust

  • Ask for specific, concrete feedback on recent behavior

  • Listen carefully and openly to the feedback. Ask for examples to help you understand the basis for their feedback

  • Summarize what you heard to make sure you understand

  • Formulate a plan for how you will respond to the feedback

  • Request more feedback on your changed behavior to see if it is in line with your intentions.

#3. Take Initiative

Relative to other cultures, American managers, especially in the high tech workplace, delegate a great deal of responsibility to those under them.

American managers prefer to tell their employees what to do, but not how to do it. Their idea is to empower their employees and encourage them to take initiative in performing their job. Employees who are given the responsibility for a task are expected to fully exercise it.

Proactive professionals manage themselves and take the initiative to develop the key characteristics that make success possible.

These characteristics include actively sharing both ideas and concerns, taking on extra responsibilities, and independently solving problems. Don’t consult with your manager about details once a project has been delegated to you.

You are expected to be a self-starter, someone who doesn’t need much support and guidance.

In fact, those individuals who appear to need a great deal of support and guidance are known as HME or high maintenance employees. They are seen as incapable of initiative, creativity, or problem solving. If you get this label, your chances of moving into the ranks of management are severely limited.

The tendency for managers to delegate also explains the American attitude toward mistakes, which is very different from what you may expect.

In general, mistakes are expected and forgiven. So proactive professionals take risks and do not fear making or admitting to mistakes. These traits are valued in the American high tech workplace.

#4. Plan Ahead

To be proactive is to be a planner. Proactive professionals prepare in advance for each task, project, or activity they are involved with.

Planning involves translating a desired vision or outcome into an implementation guide that specifies how the outcome is to be promoted. It also involves developing alternative strategies in case the initial plan of action does not succeed.

For successful planning, you must be organized. This includes organizing your work space, your time, and your workload.

Start your planning process by taking stock of your current responsibilities. Ask yourself:

  • What concrete tasks am I responsible for?

  • What responsibilities do these tasks entail?

  • How can I consolidate, shorten, or eliminate some of my tasks?

  • What problems do I anticipate in carrying out my tasks?

  • How can I solve or minimize these problems?

  • What additional skills do I need so I can perform my job better?

What to Do Now?

You may be thinking now that you need to be more proactive at work.

We at Moving Up in America encourage you to start slowly.

First, simply observe others and gather information. Second, identify role models and behaviors to emulate. Third, once you are more aware of the range of available options, you can begin to implement the four strategies we have discussed.

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