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July 28, 2023 by Dede Henley

Want To Get Ahead? Just Get Stuff Done

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Previously published on Forbes

Want to get ahead? Want to be seen as a high-potential contributor in your company? Get stuff done. The small stuff and the big stuff. Anything that your boss or team throws at you. Be the person that can be counted on to solve the problem and produce the goods. Be known for your reliability and steadiness in doing what needs to be done. 

As a professional coach, I hear a lot of talented young people wanting to be noticed more by their bosses. They want recognition and visibility. 

When asked what his most important career advice for young people is, here’s what Former President Obama said:

Just learn how to get stuff done. I’ve seen, at every level, people who are very good at describing problems. People who are very sophisticated in explaining why something went wrong or why something can't get fixed. But what I'm always looking for is, no matter how small the problem or how big it is, somebody who says, “Let me take care of that.” If you project an attitude of, whatever it is that's needed I can handle it, then whoever's running that organization will notice.”

What does that look like in practice? 

Here’s a great example of a team member doing what’s needed rather than what she was necessarily good at. Belgium shot put and hammer throw champion Jolien Boumkwo pitched in to run hurdles after two of her team members had been injured. Her team needed her to participate in the event so as not to be disqualified. The video clip demonstrates that she didn’t abuse herself or over-sacrifice, which is important to note. She’s one of the best in the world at what she does and in that moment, her team needed her to do something she’s not great at for the benefit of the team. It demonstrates humility, being a team player, and being solution oriented. 

In other words, she just got the thing done. She didn’t complain or become impatient. Jolien actually was smiling at the end of the race. She knew she’d done good. 

The other thing I hear frequently when working with young people is a sense that things should be happening faster. That their efforts should be adding up to something tangible more quickly. They are impatient. 

So let’s talk about that.

I remember coaching one of my Pepperdine University master’s students who was early in her career. She wanted a big job right now. But she was still in the midst of earning her degree and learning the ropes in the world of organization development. It would take time, I told her. 

Although she bucked against my words and ideas, she ultimately took on what she considered to be a junior role in a large organization. She demonstrated that she was the kind of person who could be counted on, who could get stuff done. She kept her eyes on a future that she knew was possible. She didn’t give up. As a result, she was noticed and promoted. And promoted again. Away she goes towards her dream job. 

Cultivating patience and stick-to-it-iveness has been a career-long journey for me. I’ve been impatient most of my working days. Things never happen fast enough for me. But over the years, I’ve learned that day-to-day actions and attitudes do add up. And that my focus can and should be on what’s right in front of me — the present — not the past or the future. If I can make my days add up to something good, like Jolien did that day she ran hurdles for her team, then, eventually, good will come my way. And it has. 

Be the person who gets stuff done. Demonstrate your competence and creativity with problem solving. Give up complaining. People will notice and you’ll feel good about your contribution to the team in the meantime.

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