I read an article by Career Advancement Expert Linda Lopeke in which she said that one of the worst career killing mistakes is to not take action. As she put it:
Taking action is the one thing that renders all on-the-job competition irrelevant. It requires no special tools or intelligence. And 98% of your co-workers will NOT be doing it. In any organization there are always a bazillion things that need to be done. However, 10% of the employee population will make professional commitments to getting thing one with enthusiasm. And only 2% ever actually take action. Management has to constantly chase and follow up with the other 98% if they want to make sure things are getting done. So what this means is if you work in a department of 100 people, only 10 people will have high potential and only 2 people will be in direct competition for raises and promotions. So, if you're not taking action you are automatically keeping yourself from getting ahead.
I couldn't agree more. And here is my two cents worth:
Taking action does not mean saying you'll do something and then not getting around to it for weeks. Some people think that if they display a gung-ho attitude in a meeting and volunteer for a task then they have scored points for their career, but it is a delusion to think that the actual follow-through doesn't matter.
If your manager has to constantly follow up with you to make sure things are getting done, then you're not being helpful. You have actually doubled his or her work. And don't think it's not noticed. It may not go in your performance appraisal because managers are sometimes reluctant to make formal notes about volunteered tasks, but he or she will make subconscious notes about your dependability. And the high-profile tasks will go to your co-worker who is known for closing the deal.
If you're the employee who cheerfully agrees to help co-workers out but you actually never get around to finishing the task at hand, what good is that? Believe me when I say that you are not going to be known as the co-worker who always helps out; you're going to be known as the co-worker who always volunteers to help out but never actually does it.
Maybe your schedule is too tight, time is too short, blah blah blah. This might be true once, but if it keeps happening, then you have a problem with time management. If you are consistently signing on for new projects and then dropping the ball, then you are not realistically perceiving your schedule and capabilities. Stop trying to reap the immediate benefits of seeming to be the helpful person if you can't do the required work.
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Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.