The MPW Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What should every 20-something do to set themselves up for success? is by Maureen J. Lally, VP of marketing NA, Installation and Services at Tyco.
Confidence and hard work are crucial in your 20s because a good education from an impressive school won’t be enough to get you ahead. The truth is, in order to earn a seat (and as important, a voice) at the table in today’s workplace, you have to work extremely hard to prove that you should be taken seriously and genuinely well-respected by your colleagues and team members.
After 25 years of navigating through male-dominated industries -- in the U.S. and globally -- I’ve learned that fact-based confidence and preparation are two key elements for proving yourself in the workplace, and ultimately driving the overall success of your career. You cannot expect to be handed opportunities. It is possible to get lucky, but luck can only take you so far without the hard work that translates luck into future and continued success. Businessman and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has articulated this thoughtfully, saying, “My experience is that you make your own luck. The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
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Many of us have all felt a lack of confidence, at times, especially in a new in a role. Confidence is just entitlement, and entitlement is the belief that you deserve something. True confidence doesn’t come without hard work. Preparation is key for all important meetings or interactions. It is vital to understand the context of the situation, and present a strategic approach that has an actionable plan that is based on facts, not opinions. In essence, you have to do your homework.
Several years ago, I participated in a task force along with other highly-respected, experienced technical and commercial leaders. I observed these colleagues -- and in spite of their positions, found that many were generally unprepared for the topic of discussion. Rather than providing knowledge and insight based on facts and analysis to support their claims and perspectives, they shared opinions based on experiences, anecdotal evidence, conjecture from one or two data points, or unsupported comments they heard from a couple of sales people.
Unfortunately, this happens a lot. Often, I would be the only person at a meeting prepared to discuss the topics with support from concrete research. This further energized and motivated me to do my homework prior to meetings. This approach proved much more fruitful than the alternative in generating a thoughtful and productive discussion. I worked by these guidelines, and they in turn worked for me. Even though I wasn’t the technical “expert” in the room -- which was oftentimes in fact filled with technical experts -- my colleagues began to respect and seek my perspective as it was based on knowledge, research, and facts. This has provided me credibility and a leadership voice in the organization. In today’s workforce where digital technology facilitates 24/7 office hours, it’s important to find a way to positively stand out from your peers with insightful knowledge and novel solutions to challenges.