MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What are three skills that are critical to success? is written by Jana Cohen Barbe, partner and global vice chair of Dentons.
For me, it begins and ends with the letter “C”. The three “C’s” that are critical to success are often unrecognized: confidentiality, compartmentalize, and collegiality. Here’s how they’ve helped me succeed throughout my career:
Can you keep a secret? Really keep a secret? Individuals who succeed in business are fundamentally trustworthy. They understand that information is not a commodity to be brokered in the workplace. Information is not a means of bragging, nor a way to convey power or inclusion. The inappropriate sharing of confidential information violates basic standards of conduct, and even more, it undermines morale by creating a toxic milieu fed by gossip and innuendo, where individuals do not feel they are working together for a common goal. Successful people are reliable and veracious. When privy to confidential information without sharing it, they convey respect for their colleagues and loyalty to their business; thus, enhancing their personal credibility.
The degree of juggling now expected of successful people is unprecedented and potentially overwhelming. The bombardment of emails, phone calls, memoranda, meetings, social media, and other demands on our time can render high performance professionals paralyzed and incapable of responding. Attempting to multi-task in the face of it all can decrease productivity as we jump from matter to matter completing nothing. The key is not to multi-task, but to compartmentalize and prioritize tasks — to do one thing at a time — and then move on to the next, rather than attempt to address multiple projects at once, insufficiently. Dedicate specific time in the day for specific jobs; responding to emails, returning phone calls, reviewing new data, tackling a new project. Do not respond to emails while sitting on a conference call or reviewing memoranda. Do one thing at a time and complete the task before moving to the next one. Staying focused and limiting internal and external distractions will ultimately save you time, your most valuable commodity.
It seems so obvious and yet so often underestimated – people who are likable and collegial in the workplace are more likely to succeed than people who are rude, divisive, or unkind. Think of it this way: Would a manager select someone who is disliked or unlikeable for an intensive project that requires a team to travel together, to spend considerable time together and, most importantly, to form a cohesive group? They wouldn’t. Opportunities go to those who unify, not to those who disrupt. Opportunities do not go to those who are hurtful or mean-spirited. That is not to say that individuals must be agreeable at all times. In the workplace, individuals should voice diverse and contrary opinions, but they should do so respectfully with civility and good humor. Disparate views can be conveyed in a way that is conciliatory and considerate of the views of others and there is no place in a work environment for name-calling, hostility, or vulgarity. The most successful individuals are those who find a way to balance an authentic voice with a diplomatic style that is good natured and genial. Collegiality is the unspoken prerequisite to success.