The Soft Side of Career Development

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The path up the ladder of success is not as easy as it used to be. It takes a good logistics plan to coordinate all the elements of your training and experience. Yes, logistical planning is not only the definition of what you do, it is critical in shaping your career as well.

After all, logistics is defined as the planning and control of the flow of goods and materials through an organization; the planning and implementation of a complex task. Building a career is certainly a complex task that helps you to move up through the organization of your choice.

An important part of your plan must be to strengthen the necessary skills required for you to move up successfully. These abilities include: The tangible—computer skills, educational certifications and degrees—and the intangible—the skills that come from your head and your heart.

There are seven specific aspects to the intangible, or the soft side, of your career development.

1. Communication skills. Just because you speak and write in the same language as those with whom you work does not mean you know how to communicate well.

English is not a simple and direct language. If it were, why would we have athesaurus to supply us with 20 words meaning virtually the same thing as the original word? Therefore, you must develop your written and verbal skills so you can assure that those around you truly comprehend what you are saying and know what you mean.

We have all found ourselves saying, "That's not what I meant!" more than once. In the business world, however, all too frequently we do not get a second chance to explain ourselves. People take us at our word, according to their own interpretation. You must take control of your communication and leave only enough room for the interpretation that matches your intent.

Good communication skills also include the ability to adjust your style to the level of your audience. Take into consideration the audience's level of education and language as you choose your words.

For example, a report to your Board of Directors (comprised of CEOs with Masters degrees) should not contain the same verbiage as the version of the report you present to front-line staff members. Don't let the way you say it distract from what you are saying.

All these team members will gain increased opportunities to be more productive and "get things right" when they really understand you and what your goals and objectives are. When communicating with your supervisors and managers, proper language and clear messages help them to fully comprehend the scope of your intelligence, thinking, and ability to lead—all excellent foundation points for a promotion.

2. Leadership skills. When you think about some of your experiences in the working world, you are probably aware of the differences between a manager and a leader. Leaders guide their people to success. They motivate, encourage, and bring out the best from each and every member of their team.

Leaders are not threatened by the success of others as they know the accomplishments of those around them reflect positively as a testament of their leadership skills. Everyone, individually as well as the company as a whole, benefits from good leadership.

3. Interpersonal skills. Learn to work and play well with others. There is no getting around the fact that people, each with their own cultures, backgrounds, and personalities, surround you. Smart executives use this diversity as a strength for the organization and their careers.

Set asidepersonal biases—business is business. Treat everyone as an asset to the company and to your career. Be patient, communicate clearly and appropriately, and be aware of non-verbal communications, such as tone and body language.

Interpersonal skills are actually a combination of communication and leadership, working together to bring out the best each employee has to offer. Pay attention to all links in your supply chain system because when they work in harmony, that work record will sing your praises.

When dealing with upper-level executives, being a sycophant is not usually the path to success. Instead, learn about their goals and objectives and work toward helping them earn those achievements. Relate to them and prove your value. The most important thing to remember is that management are people, too.

4. Negotiating skills. Many people think these skills are only necessary when a contract or salary is up for consideration. Your talent to negotiate, however, can also have a profound impact on your ability to get results from your employees and peers.

Intimidation and scare tactics work in the short term but you don't want to think about your career as short, do you? This is more than just getting the best possible price on your containers. This is getting the greatest productivity from your team, and a promotion from your director even though you don't have as much experience as the position demands.

Finding a way to keep your team content in a year when no raises or bonuses are given, getting your customer to accept a delayed shipment, and keeping morale up despite excessive overtime for skeleton crews is all negotiating. It has to do with compromise and the ability to convince others to do so willingly.

The ability to negotiate is a significant characteristic of top-level executives. Learn the skill that will help stop your career from jumping off a ledge.

5. Observation skills. Knowledge is power. In this particular case, not book knowledge, which is important also, but knowledge about your company. What is going on? Who is really in power? Who is a figurehead? Is the company up for sale? Is the company in trouble? Are new opportunities opening? You don't want gossip, you want truth.

In order to gain this precious insider information, you need to be attentive. Keep your eyes open as you walk through the halls. Make a mental note of everything that you observe, such as the body language exhibited by two co-workers having a discussion, when a manager closes the door more often than usual, and when someone is not in the office more often than usual. Individually, these sights may mean nothing. But when viewed together, they may provide an important piece of the puzzle.

6. Listening skills. It is amazing how much you learn when you are not talking. You can actually gain insight into someone's intelligence, attitude, and motives by focusing on what they say, which words they choose, and the tone with which they express themselves. Focus on the speaker's mouth as he or she talks. It will not only help you understand more clearly, it may prevent your mind from wandering.

In other words, use your eyes to support your ears. The visual aspect of what you are hearing will improve retention of the information as well. Once you have thoroughly heard what the other person is saying, you will then be able to analyze and interpret the facts and respond more intelligently. In addition, when you really listen to others you make them feel important, and that will reflect very well on you.

7. Good public relations skills. Good PR does not require you to hire a specialist who will send out press releases on your behalf. This important part of building your career is based on your ability to generate a good public image of yourself.

What do people who do not work directly with you on a day-to-day basis think of you? You need to be polite, courteous, on time (or better yet, a little early), volunteer occasionally, and return phone calls/emails in a timely fashion. Pay attention to those around you and be thoughtful by asking for a follow-up on a sick child or new puppy.

All these things will benefit you by establishing you as a people-person, someone who is reliable and action-oriented. It can also get you what you want and need on occasion. You may not care, but others do.

Think about it. Logistics is all about getting things from point A to point B, on time and in good working order. Logistics professionals must be able to accomplish more than just their own work. They must orchestrate an entire chain of events with precision and control.

Just as logistics is more than sealing the box to the customers' requirements, however, building a career is much more than multi-tasking. It takes a sense of professionalism. Your behavior, your personality—it all adds up to include the way you conduct yourself with regard to the particulars of doing business. Without question, especially if you have read a newspaper in the last year, ethics will enter the equation as well.

Regardless of your age, these "old-fashioned" values still reign in the business world.

Don Jacobson is the senior partner of LogiPros. Email dj@logipros.com or call 800-300-7609.

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