First, you pay your dues

May 5, 2000
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Everyone talks about leadership in the '90s, but to be a good leader you first must be a good follower. Call it 'paying your dues' - gaining the experience and seasoning you'll need to know what to do when you take over the department. Here are ten ways to get the most out of your dues-paying days:

    1. Be humble. When you're asked to do a task that appears to be beneath you, do it without complaining and whining. If you haven't done a job, it's difficult to explain to someone else how to do it.

    2. Show total commitment. Sure, downsizing, rightsizing and sometimes capsizing make this difficult. But if you can't commit yourself unconditionally to your boss or department, you'll eventually be exposed and your career growth will be severely stunted.

    3. Do as you're told. Especially in the heat of the moment, don't question your boss to the nth degree. By the time you get an adequate answer the whole facility might be burned down. Ask questions later. If you can't follow orders, your future in the business world might just be a short one.

    4. Anticipate difficulty. When you're given an assignment, assume that there will be problems. Schedule some slack to allow for delays. Expect that not all information will be readily available. Prepare yourself to persevere and work longer than an eight-hour day. Prepare a Plan B, Plan C, and a Plan D so you don't panic if Plan A falters. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

    5. Demonstrate initiative. Don't always wait to be told what to do. And be ready to run with instructions that are not as clear as you might like. Let's face it, how many leaders sit around waiting for someone to tell them what to do?

    6. Stick to your priorities. In the hectic business world there are all sorts of distractions and interruptions. You've got to set priorities. Change them only when your superiors redirect you with their own priorities. See "Do as you're told" and the next tip.

    7. Be loyal. Seems like loyalty has been virtually eliminated from our vocabulary. When someone attacks your boss or your department, be the first to defend your colleagues. When your boss needs your help, give it.

    8. Be thankful. Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Instead of complaining about what you don't have, think about what you do have. And remember, most of those professionals with more responsibility and higher salaries have earned what they've gotten. Be ready to earn what you want.

    9. Be persistent. Don't make every little hurdle seem a mile high. Be resourceful. If one approach doesn't work, try another to solve the problem. And don't pass the buck. Come up with different ways for getting the job done, and keep trying until one works.

    10. Finish what you start. Too many professionals today do 90 percent of a job and assume someone else is going to finish it. Be someone your boss and others can depend on. If you're not reliable, your boss will find someone who is.

As you work your way up the corporate food chain remember, there's always a bigger fish somewhere in the pond. So don't forget about these traits as you move your career along, they will always come in handy.

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