This week’s announcement of 42 year-old Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate raises many questions, including the following: How does one move into a position of such power and prominence at such a young age? Is it sheer smarts or talent? A burning ambition and a willingness to work harder than anyone else? Connections? All of the above? None of the above?
Seeking answers with special relevance for communications professionals, we turned to a few people named as “rising stars” on this year’s PRWeek 40 Under 40 list. We consulted Ogilvy Worldwide PR’s Nathan Friedman, Burson Marsteller’s Jay Leveton, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide’s Eve Stevens, and Cohn & Wolfe’s Stephanie Howley. Based upon their insights, we compiled the following Ten Do’s and Don’ts For Moving Up Quickly:
DO! Look for Opportunities—Nathan Friedman notes that he is always seeking opportunities to grow and develop, and that he never shies away from a challenge put in front of him. A proactive, energetic approach to his job has helped him by enabling him to “grow dynamically, to learn from people with different points of view and to face new client dilemmas that may have otherwise been outside my direct job. I’ve never heard anyone say that successful people believe in ‘all good things to those who wait.’”
DO! Play Well With Others—In PR as in other endeavors, it isn’t all about how much knowledge or talent you have, but also about your ability to influence others and make them want to work with you. Jay Leveton regards strategic thinking as a minimum requirement for success. “You also have to be collaborative and be able to work with and, later in your career, lead a team. The smartest and most strategic people are often not as successful as they could be because the inability to collaborate or work in a collegial way hurts their chances to truly get ahead.”
DON’T! Be Too Rigid—To rise up, you need to be able to adapt. “Everyone’s work-style is different,” notes Stephanie Howley, “and you can sink your chances of moving up by not learning how to modify your style based on your audience. Some of your managers need to be managed, while others like you to take things and run with it and never look back.” The important thing is to observe and focus on delivering against the needs of your superiors.
DO! Get A Mentor—Friedman avers that, “mentoring and being mentored have played an important role in my career. I feel that a mentoring relationship is best if it is born from a spark and evolves naturally. I often speak with people who used to work with me, or who are in different roles, and we’re able to learn from each other. It’s one of the best parts of the job! One of my mentors is Ogilvy PR’s APAC CEO Steve Dahllof. He showed me how to infuse creative thinking into my client counsel and look for “sparks” of inspiration in areas I never thought of that before.”
DO! Work with Passion—As Eve Stevens reflects, “I see a common thread of passion, tenacity and purpose, the appreciation that at the heart of what we do, there is always something and someone, beyond ourselves and our personal motivations, that we are working for be it our clients, our clients’ customers, our community, or our colleagues and team members.”
DO! Look at Every Day As On-The-Job Training—If you want to learn how to do something in PR, the best thing to do is…do it! Stevens sums it up well: “PR is such a fluid and dynamic practice that every day we get intensive on-the-job leadership training. Every day we put critical skills into action and learn from thinking on our feet, trying new tactics, asking why and to what end, and questioning our assumptions. This daily immersion in learning leadership skills means that it is possible to quickly be able to make an impact within an organization and rise to the top quickly.”
DON’T! Give Up—If you want something, go for it, even if it seems hard, even if others tell you you can’t do it. Howley stresses the importance of tenacity, “the mental grit it takes to not stop when barriers appear and work through challenges to keep going—and the ability to adapt to an ever changing industry.”
DO! Work For A Firm That Offers Upward Mobility—Leveton reflects on the importance that his firm, Burson Marsteller, has had on his career because of its policies meant to nurture promising talent. “Even though we are a global firm, if there is someone who shows great drive and ability, whether it be in Washington, Hong Kong or Buenos Aires, we will always push that person forward to be successful and give them the opportunities to move up. At Burson Marsteller we say that work always finds good people, and the more someone can take on, the more that person will receive and the more quickly he or she will advance in their career.”
DO! Participate in Leadership Programs—Stevens remembers that “at a time when I was at a real crossroads and feeling isolated and unfulfilled, I had the exquisite opportunity to be part of a program called Leaders Forum at Waggener Edstrom, a yearlong peer-to-peer collaboration, learning and mentoring program. During that time, I realized that I was not alone, that there are common experiences we all are facing that we can help each other through.”
DON’T! Be Afraid to Work Hard—If you want something, you have to be prepared to make sacrifices and go the extra mile. As Leveton reflects, “Advising clients, managing the work and leading and motivating a team globally or down the hall takes time and dedication. Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours of work to be really good at any craft. That’s about 5 years of intensive hands on public relations or communications experience to really be good at it and maybe that is being conservative.” So hang in there!
Hard work, mentoring, learning from others: It seems that the secret to moving up fast is really no secret at all. The key, however, is to keep focused on these items and not let yourself get discouraged by short-term setbacks.
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