52 commandments for success: Rules to achieving everyday awesomeness
This collection of wisdom nuggets, behaviors, and tips were pulled from the Men@Work book. There are 52...one for every week of the year. I’ve accumulated them over the course of my career from colleagues, my husband, my dad, siblings, bosses, and just my experiences. Together, they have become a sort of prayer or meditation that I recite to myself when things can get challenging.
If you’re a fan of these, check out our Women at Work Journal: 52 Weeks of Success & Happiness. We think it provides a nice tool all year long for setting goals, capturing thoughts on challenges and opportunities, and considering how to maximize your success and happiness. Plus, it might be fun to go back and look at it next year and feel good about everything you've accomplished and see how far you've come!
Without further ado, here are my 52 commandments for success!
Stay out of politics.
Don’t lose your head.
Jump on loose balls—the ones rolling out of bounds that no one else can or wants to catch.
Give praise to colleagues and team members early, often, publicly, effusively, generously—never take credit for their great efforts.
Let bad news present itself. That is, don’t be the bearer of it. The truth will come out without you proactively being the whistleblower, appearing negative all the time.
If you show up with a problem or bad news, show up with a solution for it and get to it quickly and succinctly, avoid complexifying.
Be overtly grateful and never take anything for granted. Go out of your way to say thank you and write personal notes of gratitude for tangible and intangible things given to you by others—managers, peers, and subordinates.
Stay as close to revenue as possible.
Avoid saying no to superiors. Figure out a way to deliver and provide solutions vs. problems and reasons why things can’t be done.
Don’t go to your boss with your “list” of stuff on your plate and ask him or her to prioritize it for you. Figuring it out on your own will be key to your success. Leaders don’t ask their superiors to prioritize their work for them.
When your boss calls, pick up the fn phone. :)
Avoid the automated “out of office” reply email. You’ll rarely, if ever, see an executive do this.
Assume you’re being underestimated—because you probably are. Determine how to navigate past it up front by finding something you can do or say as quickly as possible to establish yourself as credible, someone to be heard.
Close your laptop in meetings and put away your phone if you can. Come prepared. Focus on listening and interacting in the moment. Avoid sitting in a meeting and doing email or other work.
Don’t let the great be the enemy of the good—i.e., get stuff done/delivered and make it better over time vs. delaying or not getting it out at all.
Bring a notebook to meetings. Take notes, especially if you’re a subordinate. That’s why your boss asked you to be there.
Follow up immediately—make it clear what you’re going to do by when and then get it done.
Have all difficult or important conversations live. Pick up the phone or address it in person.
Relationships matter, but don’t rely on one to achieve your success. Focus on succeeding based on merit, your ability to add value, or doing something other people can’t do as well as you can.
Everybody is somebody’s bitch—understand whose you are and who is yours.
Find the thing that you’re good at that no one else is doing or doing well. Make it tangible. Solve an exec’s problem with that personal strength before they even articulate the problem or how to solve it.
If it weren’t hard, it wouldn’t be called work. You don’t get something for nothing.
Success doesn’t come for free—or rarely does. The people who made it made sacrifices most of us aren’t willing to make.
Committees and overly democratic processes are for people that have nothing better to do, can’t think for themselves, or aren’t smart enough to just get something done. However, focused, cross-functional SWAT teams with a specific mandate or deliverable and strong leader or facilitator tend to work.
Cultivate your funny self and practice keeping things in perspective. The ability to apply humor can help you be more credible, disarming, and trusted. It can be the critical factor that makes your other strengths more valuable and gets you included.
Packaging matters—a lot. Your appearance and the way deliverables look is core to your personal brand image and advancing over the longer term.
Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Don’t half-ass things. Whether it’s hosting a dinner, writing a personal letter, or doing a presentation, always do your best.
When you’ve done everything right but haven’t been rewarded, sometimes you just have to ask for it.
Create choices for yourself. Take risks and create things no one asked you to do. Be entrepreneurial. Open up opportunities, even if you don’t take them.
It’s important to be tough and tenacious and to carry yourself with confidence. Life will get tough, so it’s critical to determine how to deal with adversity with grace and stoicism. When you’ve lost your mojo, find a vehicle for getting it back. Exercise. Whistle a happy tune. Spend time with family or do something that reinvigorates your sense of self.
Keep your literal and figurative carbon footprint as minimal as possible. Consider your drama factor, your impact on other people. Don’t be a taker.
Constraints breed brilliance. Focus on what you can do and get creative about overcoming the roadblocks of people, money, or processes. Be a shark. Keep moving.
Usually, it’s best to diffuse a bomb vs. detonating it. Figure out how to finesse a potential crisis to quiet resolution. Don’t blow it up with public drama that will hurt yourself and others. Inciting unnecessary collateral damage precipitates more problems and tees up revenge moves from the other side. Nobody profits from a path of mutual destruction.
Acting nasty, particularly in email, effectively gives up your power and your choices. It’s best to find more constructive ways to get someone to do what you want or need.
If you’re a natural introvert, push yourself to be more extroverted. Reach out to connect with people and forge relationships. Draw people in. Learn how to be a good storyteller. If you’re a strong extrovert, consider toning it down. Focus on listening. Make sure you’re taken seriously and not seen as too loud or verbose. Conserve your words and get to the point. Ensure it’s not all about you. Focus on the quality of your relationships vs. the quantity.
Avoid “Valley Girl” talk, the sorority girl affect, or up-speak. Ensure you avoid nervous laughter when it doesn’t make sense, twirling your hair or touching it too much, biting your nails or cracking your knuckles. All that stuff is distracting, conveys insecurity, and compromises your physical presence. I’ve seen women of all ages do this, but it’s particularly pervasive with women in their teens, 20s, and 30s.
Find your internal calm and exude confidence while focusing on the substance of what you have to say in a straightforward way. Colleagues appreciate and respect those who come across as genuine and honest. They see them as trustworthy, which is key to getting included.
Don’t fight change. Turn it into opportunity. Anticipate where things are going and figure out how to make yourself relevant in that world.
Power at work isn’t always about having a big budget or owning a big team. It’s about influence, so it’s important to earn respect and determine how to make yourself a person of influence among peers and your broader stakeholders.
Don’t panic. Don’t quit when you have kids and things get crazy (unless you really want to). If you’re good, firms will accommodate you. They’ll let you work fewer or unconventional hours, allow you to avoid travel, and give you the flexibility that you need. Be scrappy about making it work for you and them.
Figure out how to navigate failure and/or weakness in yourself because both are inevitable and your ability to deal with them effectively is the difference between success and failure over the longer haul.
Don’t be a martyr. Too many women work too hard while not working smart. They’re not appreciated for it and burn out.
Find time every day to be present, contemplative, and grateful for a moment of victory at work, a kid’s achievement, or some other accomplishment. Take an early morning run through Central Park if you happen to be in New York, do a bike ride along Lake Michigan in Chicago, walk along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, explore Back Bay and the Common in Boston, or enjoy whatever beautiful place provides moments of perspective.
Carefully pick your battles and place your bets. Everyone’s time is scarce. Judiciously choose the things that you focus on and deliver. Consider their ROI and how they will make a difference in the business and pick the ones that will be tangible for your key stakeholders. Walk away from the “black hole” initiatives that will suck all of your time but don’t have all the ingredients to be successful or ingredients that are too out of your control.
Make yourself uncomfortable even if you don’t have to—it makes you stronger, creates opportunity, reinforces perspective, and helps you appreciate what you have.
Don’t focus on your own thing, your own gain. Focus instead on making everyone around you better and more. By giving over power to others, by serving others, you effectively become more powerful and compelling as a contributor and leader.
As you advance through various positions, always figure out how to work yourself out of the role by enabling others to do it effectively and eventually take over for you.
Good things happen to people with good attitudes.
A strong work ethic can overcome a multitude of weaknesses.
There are no career dead ends or wrong turns. Every experience is valuable and you can always reinvent and resurrect yourself with the right attitude, hard work, and dedication. Drive and relish your journey vs. letting it just happen to you.
You own your happiness and success—it’s no one else’s responsibility or fault.
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Christina Van Houten is the founder of Women at Work. Based in Boston with her husband and two teenage sons, she has spent the last 20 years of her career as a senior executive in the enterprise technology sector. Prior to evolving into tech, Christina founded a women's athletic apparel brand and served in several public interest roles focused on community and economic development. She started working at age thirteen and hasn't stopped since. She’s eager to help women find their way to the best possible life they can achieve.