It's easy to get caught up in the day to day of a hectic job and lose sight of the big picture. Meeting deadlines may get you through the week but relationships and reputation are going to make you successful in the long-run. Here are six best practices for those looking to play the long-game and establish themselves as leaders in their industry.
1. Make Your Contacts Your Own
You may be dealing with people as a representative of your company, but it's important to make those contacts your own. Relationships drive business (and everything else). If and when you leave your job, the most important thing you'll take with you are the relationships you created along the way. Don't just create professional acquaintances; create personal connections.
Even if you have to pay for it yourself, network, go out to drinks, go to lunch. Most importantly, keep your own contact database. I make a point to always collect business cards, then I periodically scan those cards into my Google Contacts and connect with people on LinkedIn. Put a system in place that works for you and make sure nobody slips through the cracks.
2. Be Known as You, Not Your Job
You never want people to think of you as simply filling a role for your company. Yes, you may have an important position, but don't rely on that position to define you. Be a real person, be yourself and with that you'll become memorable.
You never know when your professional circumstances may change. Without establishing yourself as a person, people who used to swoon over your every move may totally ignore you if you move to a different role. If they know you for you, this will never be the case.
3. Maintain Your Integrity
Don't think for a minute that your reputation doesn't follow you forever. No matter if you are changing jobs or changing states, if people have negative things to say about you word will get around. Treat everyone well. Don't lie or be dishonest in how you do business. Don't take shortcuts and don't be a jerk.
Treat work contacts as well as you treat your friends and family. Never criticize anyone in a public forum. A strong reputation will carry you through the most difficult of life's journeys. Without one, you'll go nowhere.
4. Be Responsive
I can't overestimate the importance of being responsive. It's the single easiest way to build a strong reputation. Always reply to emails. Even if you don't know the answer to a question or don't have time to do the work involved, respond. Always, always respond. Tell people you're working on it. Tell people when they can expect it. When someone does something for you, follow up with a thank you note.
It doesn't count if you are only responsive when there's something in it for you. Being responsive only in those situations can be detrimental to your reputation.
5. Be Interesting
Never forget the importance of work-life balance. If you are only your job then you are easily forgettable as a person. Develop outside interests and take them seriously. Use these interests to showcase yourself as a real person in your professional life. Talking about the previous quarter's sales results when asked "What's new?" isn't going to make you many friends.
Always have an answer to "What's new?" separate from your job. Master cooking that new recipe, learn that foreign language, enter your photos into a contest or even write a blog for the Huffington Post. Whatever you do will help keep the bigger picture in perspective and make you a more memorable and interesting person that people will want to work with.
6. Invest in People
There is no insignificant person. There is no person not worthy of your time. Listen to what people have to say. Form alliances. Do favors. Take an interest in your peers and in the career development of your subordinates. Even if you are busy, be generous with your time. Try to help people when there is nothing in it for you. Connect people to one another. Take meetings with no visible benefit. It is in the unknown that new opportunities will emerge.
It's important to never forget where you came from. You may be the VP of a major company today but once upon a time you were a student with no contacts in need of some direction. Volunteer to speak with students through your alma mater. Be a mentor. Guest lecture. You never know who you will meet or what opportunity may present itself along the way.