Slay your 9 to 5: Success Tips for the Career Woman from Mrs Aishah Ahmad

aishah ahmad

I recently delivered the keynote speech at the ‘9to5Chick’ Power Breakfast Series, a platform focused on enabling young women to advance in their careers. Created by Glory Edozien, this forum connects ambitious female professionals to accomplished executives to discuss strategies for rising to the top.

I had a great time connecting with these ambitious millennial women, as we discussed a host of subjects. As a 9to5 chick myself, with a passion to see women advance, I am sharing my talk points and ten lessons learnt from my still-unfolding journey to the top.

On intentional career growth and staying valuable in your current role;

  • Decide what ‘growth’ means for you. Years of experience? Level of expertise? Money? Position?
  • Find role models who have achieved the growth you seek. What did they do? How did they get there?
  • Understand your target industry. Do a SWOT analysis. Where is it currently? What trends are emerging? Can you predict a future for it? What does that look like?
  • How do you fit in the future of this industry? Will your skills and capabilities remain relevant? Take steps to acquire the knowledge, experiences and relationships that make you valuable in that future.
  • Understand the dynamics and develop insights about the current position of your company. How does it create value for its customers? What are its priorities? Ensure you work in a core area of the business and are key to delivering on its priorities.
  • Leaders develop and communicate a vision for the future. Your ability to think strategically, anticipate future trends and direct your team appropriately will set you apart. 
  • Develop and demonstrate financial acumen and practical insight into your company’s performance

 On managing your career

  • Define your career goals, aspirations and work systematically to achieve them.
  • Never make assumptions or leave your career development solely in the hands of your employer. Do not assume that because you are working hard and recognized for it, you will automatically progress. Take an active role in mapping your trajectory and let your supervisor know of your aspirations.
  • Career paths have changed significantly over the last decade – we will work at many different jobs in many different companies with skills transferable to a number of industries. This increasingly leaves the individual responsible for determining their job content and career progression.

On networking

  • Relationships take time, effort and require investment. At events, focus on learning as much as you can about the people you meet and do not worry about how long you spend with one person; neither should you over-celebrate if you collected 50 complimentary cards! What matters is finding common ground and a reason to take the relationship forward. It is all right if this is not immediately obvious. Say hello, move on and keep in touch.
  • Networking is about giving back and focusing on helping others. If you think of a network as a couple of points connected by nodes, aim to be the node in that network. Be the one that always connects people to others they should know. Be the one that generously shares their time and contacts. It always flows back.

 On managing a difficult boss

  • Take time to study and understand your boss, personally and professionally. What makes them tick? Personality type? Background and career path? Get a feel for their most important priorities at work; what are they trying to achieve? How can you help them achieve it?
  • Leverage the learning opportunity – challenging bosses usually have high standards, which may cause tension as they stretch their subordinates to achieve the goal. Identify the ultimate objective and focus on new skills and insights you will learn. Try to ignore the way the feedback is being delivered and focus on the message itself. If you are not learning something new, at least you are learning how to deal with challenging people, always a worthwhile skill! 
  • Make your boss look good. They may appear to take the credit, but great bosses know to position their best people for the best opportunities when it really counts. Trust that and do your part. Be the one that makes life easier for the boss.
  • Remember, bosses are human – be kind. Even your difficult deserves several chances and the opportunity to show their good side. Understand that they are not perfect and support them in their journey to improve.
  • Do not take things personally, instead find the right time to politely offer some feedback about improving the relationship and make it about helping him/her get the most out of you; e.g. ‘I work better when I am calmly spoken to’, etc
  • If all of this fails, seek other opportunities within or outside the organization.

 aishah ahmad

On communicating effectively

  • Communication is a leadership opportunity; leverage it often. Believe in yourself – you have something worthwhile to say!
  • Learn how to talk (listen!), write and deliver presentations – the best way is to practice often.
  • Be brief and clear. Do not say it aloud until you understand it in your head. 
  • Meetings – contribute to the conversation. If you do not have a comment, it is ok to amplify someone else’s ideas or even ask a question. Air your views, do not be a chair! Sit in front or near the front. Sit next to a powerful person if possible and watch how they communicate. 
  • Presentations – tailor your content and delivery to the audience. Prepare and practice; do your homework on the recipients and understand their various views on the subject. Watch for non-verbal cues to ensure you are communicating. People are busy, so create a short (5-minute) version of the presentation; that may be all the time you’ll have.

On overcoming lethargy and indecisiveness

  • Sometimes we do not have the will or ‘feel like’ taking action. We feel uninspired and thus procrastinate which makes us feel guilty and perpetuates a negative cycle of inaction. If you feel lethargic do not fight your lethargy or beat yourself up for being lazy; instead, try to understand where your reticence is coming from.
  • You could be scared of taking action for a number of reasons; worried you might fail, afraid of taking the wrong decision, petrified about people’s reactions; genuinely lost interest in the idea, the task may tug at long-held beliefs about yourself that you do not want to confront. On the other hand, you may simply be tired.
  • Anything from shutting down for a period, getting some sleep, thinking through your fears and the worst thing that could happen if you did or didn’t take action should be sufficient to re-energize you. Interestingly, taking small steps that move you forward towards any goal is a good way to build momentum in the right direction.

On being a team player vs. standing out at work

  • Be generous, help colleagues find opportunities to shine and let them fully take the credit.
  • Graciously accept accolades for your work. When it counts don’t be shy or afraid to say ‘I’
  • Take the initiative, always from a position of genuinely wanting to help. Everyone can smell ‘playing to the gallery’ a mile away!
  • Develop an interest in areas outside your core responsibility, without alienating those who have primary responsibility for that area

On self – branding for career growth 

  • Become a thought leader in your industry – write professional blogs, or LinkedIn posts
  • Speak at and attend industry conferences and seminars or simply give a talk at a client’s office.
  • The best brands are consistent; develop a reputation as the expert in your field. Be un- ignorable.
  • Be conscious and deliberate about social media posts understanding the impression they project.

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