Hi Beloved, I thank God for the grace He had given me to enjoy a successful career spanning over 10 years in the banking industry. Now I am seeing this grace, flowing through me into the lives of many young people whom I minister to and they are being greatly blessed and highly successful in their own careers. So, I thought I would share with you the top 20 lessons I have learnt from my professional life with you in short points so that you can quickly read and take it into your mind. My earnest prayer is that everyone who follows Christ will also be a great success in their professional life as well.
- Pray every day, Pray before you start your day. That is the foundation for success. With God all things become possible.
- Knowledge will make you an indispensable asset. So, keep increasing your knowledge by reading and learning all throughout your career. Just because you have a degree/professional qualification does not mean you have knowledge. You need to keep updating and upgrading your knowledge and have a diverse knowledge covering many areas.
- Ask questions. Always keep asking questions. That is the only way to learn. Shyness will get you nowhere.
- Avoid political games, avoid taking sides during conflicts. It will hurt your career when one side gains control over the other. That is why I say stay clear of office politics.
- Avoid short-cuts. Always play by the rules even if others do not. Winning by any means will result in shame and disgrace later on.
- Work wisely. Hard work is good but without wisdom it means nothing. When you ask God for His wisdom, you will work efficiently and effectively. That is when the world starts noticing there is something special about you. I testify to that experience.
- Work-Life balance is your responsibility. Don’t think the office is going to worry about your health and personal/family life. It is up to you to plan and make sure you make time for life. If you are a workaholic, you will regret it once you pass a certain age. So, from now plan how you will maintain a balance between work and life. If there is work, stay late but if work is finished, go home. Don’t get caught to this awful Sri Lankan practice where when the boss gets up only, all the others will get up to go home because they do not want to be seen as the one not having loads of work. From early on I made the decision that when I have work, I will work even 14-16 hours but when I am done after 8 hours of work, I go home.
- Dress to impress. Shabby and unsuitable dressing creates a bad first impression and a daily continuous bad impression. For example, don’t go to work dressed like your going for a wedding or party. That is unsuitable dressing. Don’t go to work dressed like you’re going to buy bread in the morning (casual clothes, crushed/un-ironed clothes, worn out/faded clothes). That is shabby dressing. Dress smart. Dress keeping in mind what is the latest accepted corporate and business wear.
- You must speak English fluently. Whether you like it or not, you need to speak the language of business. So, invest in a good course which will help you speak the language well.
- Network with the people who can get you higher up the ladder. Don’t just stick to that close group of friends and not have contacts outside of that. Speak to people and be friendly with people from all over, at every level of management. When I left the bank, I had to visit all the floors of our head office, then also go to all of our branch offices in Colombo and call the outstation branches to say my bye, byes. I had made so much of good relationships at every level of management. Some were moved to tears to see me leaving. Such strong relationships you must build all throughout your career.
- Always scan the environment for opportunities to move up. Every 5-7 years look to move up the ladder. Now, the higher you go in the corporate ladder, the more time you will spend at one job position. So, at Senior Management level, chances are, you will spend longer periods of time in one position. However, if it is Middle Management and Executive levels, if you have been in the same position for more than 5-7 years, it is HIGH TIME YOU MOVE UP or MOVE OUT to another place at a higher position. Now this principle may not apply for all professions because some professions for example like the legal profession or airlines have a very flat organizational structure. It applies mostly for those who are working in retail, consumer, finance, marketing, manufacturing and many others like it. One more important thing. Don’t leave your current job and then look for another. A gap in-between jobs on your CV will cost you. Your CV is the first impression you give regarding yourself. So, if there are gaps or questions and doubts about it; then even before people meet you, they would have formed negative impressions about you in their mind. A detailed blog post on how to do a CV & apply for jobs will come in the future.
- Silence is golden. Less words spoken is treasure. Gossip will kill your career. Things spoken near the water cooler, things spoken at the lunch table, things spoken at office gatherings, have a way of going right to the ears of the person you were talking about. So shut that mouth please.
- Time management is a competitive edge. The more efficient you are at managing your time, the more efficient and smart your work will be. Have a daily and weekly ‘To-do’ list in a notepad. Prioritize tasks as ‘those that need immediate attention’ and ‘those that can be attended to closer to the end of the day’ or ‘attended to on a certain day of the week’.
- Keep your emotions under control. This is something very vital and something I personally struggled with a bit. I regret not having always been in control of my emotions. However, if you can keep your emotions in check during tough situations or when people provoke you, it will most definitely make you a great leader. Train yourself within your mind not to react to every word that is said, every email that is sent, every accusation that comes, every scolding you receive or every problem that comes up. Take a minute (or even more), gather your thoughts and plan your response. Some battles are not worth fighting at all. Some battles are best fought on another day.
- Treat everyone with respect & keep peace with all. You will know its value later. It can be the CEO, your manager, the staff who work with you or for you, the person who cleans the office or the security guard at the entrance – be nice to them all, treat them with respect, greet them as you come and go from office. You will realize its value, when you are in need one day. They will even fight your battles for you. A lot of people demand respect without first giving it. A lot of people try to forcefully influence others without first gaining their confidence. By treating all with respect and dignity, you get into your head in a good way. This gives you the power to influence. Power to influence makes you a great leader. However always use your influence in positive ways that glorify God. Do not misuse it.
- Do not fear to impart knowledge to another. Fear will keep you a prisoner of your anxieties. Everything you have is because of God’s grace. So, no one can steal your blessing unless you open the door for the devil to rob it. So be generous with your knowledge. Teach others freely. Don’t ever have that mentality which says if I teach this person, they might climb over my head. Such mentality will always keep you from growing as a person.
- Work for show will not get you too far. Doing a little bit but boasting like you have done a whole lot will only help you temporarily. Such people will definitely get exposed one day for their lies. Having said that make sure people know what you are doing and what you have accomplished. Just do not keep quiet. Do everything faithfully and honourably but make sure that people know about your achievements. During your performance appraisal speak about it. Drop a mail to your superiors giving a performance update saying all this has been achieved. Celebrate your achievements and celebrate the achievements of others as well. That shows that you’re not insecure and that you’re a team player.
- Have a life outside of work or else you will burnout. If you are thinking ‘work, work, work’ or ‘career, career, career’ and nothing else, you will lose motivation and end up getting sick. You need a life outside of work with friends, family or hobbies, holidaying or even serving God in ministry. Facebook is not a life outside of work. Many sit in office and surf through social media thinking I have a life. Get outside and move with the real-world and chill out otherwise you will not last long in your career.
- Manage money wisely & keep out of debt as much as you can. My next blog post will deal with the topic of managing your money and debt. However, let me give some quick points here for now. A mistake many who start their careers make is they spend, spend, spend on everything their eyes see. Yes, we must spend because we must dress well, live well and enjoy well. However, we must also save and invest. Every month transfer a small sum to another separate account and let it build up as a savings over time. If you get large bonuses, invest at least a part of it in Deposits, Treasury Bills, Investment/Savings linked Insurance plans or even shares (if you have stock market knowledge only I advise you to do this) to earn a return. One credit card is enough. Do not get caught to the marketing tricks of banks and have a wallet full of cards and no cash at all. In Sri Lanka, owning a property is a worthy investment. So, focus on saving and maybe borrowing on a long term basis to buy property (if you do not own property).
- You have value. You are valuable. You carry a value for your organization/business. We all work for money not purely for pleasure. So, you need your salary or income (if you’re in business/professional work) to be growing. Do not be shy about wanting a good pay or higher salary. Hence, do not undervalue yourself and always ask for a low pay or charge customers a low price resulting in you doing more but earning less. However, do not overvalue yourself where you ask for a crazy high pay or charge customers crazy high prices. This results in you getting nothing. Romans 12:3 speaks about having a correct estimate of our self. The best way to gain that is by you being your biggest critic. I was my biggest critic. I always wanted to achieve more. Know more. Learn more. Know what every section of the bank was doing. I wanted to know it and I would go and learn it. Way before I got into Compliance and Risk Management, I had already started reading about Risk management a year or two before just to know what it was all about. So, suddenly when there were job openings because of a global crisis for the bank I was called for an interview for a Risk Management position. A certain person thought with my knowledge of all functions of the bank, I would be the best person for this role and recommended me. During the interview, hearing my answers to the questions, the overseas interviewer on the conference call was like ‘Oh, you already know this Risk stuff.’ When you ‘WOW’ your superiors, then you can demand what you want. This is why my No.2 point was ‘Knowledge will make you an indispensable asset.’
I hope this blog post was a blessing to you. This what I learnt in time in the corporate sector. I may not have been perfect in all areas, all the time; but I want you to achieve excellence by learning from my experiences and be like Daniel in the Bible who prospered in his career whilst being a servant of God.