Sunday, March 25, 2012

Career Secret #4: Cowboy Up

Here's what it means to Cowboy Up: Get a grip, take a chance, grow up, quit bitching about it and make a decision.  Strap on a pair.

You get the idea.

Taking risks - calculated risks - will move your career forward quicker than almost anything else.  Even if the timing or the idea isn't perfect, you will gain both recognition and respect if you're willing to consistently take thoughtful action.  What matters most here is courage.

To 'cowboy up' successfully means you have assessed the situation and confirmed the following:

1)  Your boss trusts and supports you (thanks to your wise investment in this relationship).

2)  You have identified your strengths and you are comfortable showing them.

3)  You have a few great ideas in mind, and you're ready to present at least one.

Now is the time to make a bold move.

Yes, I know, I know.

'What if I blow it?'
'The timing doesn't feel exactly right.'
'My idea is pretty radical - I'm not sure it will fly.'
'I get nervous when I'm the center of attention.'

The truth is, if you take risks, you will occasionally fail.  And timing, while important, is secondary to a great idea.  Certainly, it can be nerve racking to be the center of attention in front of a large group of people.  Whenever I'm watching someone make a presentation, I notice everything about the person.  Is that a button missing?  She bites her nails.  Why didn't he polish his shoes? 

So before you give that important presentation, make sure your shirt has all its buttons, de-scuff your shoes and get a manicure.  Anticipate every challenge you can, then take a deep breath and proceed as if you know exactly what you're doing.

Cowboys always face their fears calmly, and with courage.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to give a grand rounds presentation to an audience of physicians on the topic of patient centered care. Grand rounds is a physician-to-physician forum, and no one in my area had ever invaded this structure.  Because of the support of my boss and other leaders, my request was granted.

My presentation went well until the end when I invited questions from the physician audience.  A doctor asked me a question that I didn't understand. 

I asked him to repeat it. 

I still didn't get what he meant. 

Rattled, because I had to say something, I offered a bullshit response that revealed my total lack of understanding. This faux pas was discussed among my staff for weeks afterward. 

Honestly, it would have been easy to  swear off bold moves and avoid big presentations in the future.  Instead, a year later, when I requested hosting another grand rounds, I had done my homework and learned a thing or two.  This time, I involved physicians and patients in a panel discussion, interacted with the audience and easily fielded every question.

Tips to consider before taking a risk:

1)  If you don't hit the mark perfectly, it's okay.  Just make sure you're in the right vicinity.

2)  Seek consultation from respected colleagues and leaders before making your big move.

3)  If you blow it, be the first to laugh at yourself and use the experience as a 'what I learned' story in your interview for the next promotion.

4)  Involve others. This lowers your personal risk and lets you play the role of Mastermind. 

Unforeseen challenge:  After a fabulous presentation, you may want to kick back for a while because big events require a lot of mental and physical energy.  But if you're serious about growing your career quickly, keep seeking out new opportunities to be in the limelight.  Capturing a moment in the sun is easy, but if you want to be first on the list when a promotion comes up, keep your face out there and show them again why you're the right person for the job.

What ideas are you considering right now that excite you, but seem a little too risky to pursue?  Go ahead and take the next step.  Cowboy up and make a bold move.  Your career has gained momentum, and now it's up to you to provide the courage - the fuel - for ignition.

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