5 Great Habits Successful Young Professionals Need to Develop

Gone are the days where it’s sufficient to graduate with a decent-enough degree, cruise along your new-found career and just check in and out at work.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and author of ‘The Startup of You’, also espouses the importance of taking charge of your personal brand and to look at your own career trajectory as a series of iterations.

Plan, ship, iterate. Just like how start-ups do.

Career linearity is almost unheard of these days.

Likewise, organizations are recognizing the importance of bringing out the best from this breed of young professionals, or the Gen-Ys, as we call it. The danger therein occurs when young professionals become complacent and lose the drive to develop themselves professionally.

As a young professional and speaker who speaks on the importance for ‘Connecting for Success’ myself, I have put together ‘5 Great Habits Successful Young Professionals Need to Develop’.

These insights are derived both from learning the growth trajectories of my business and corporate mentors as well as from my reading over 100 personal development titles.

1. Develop Curiosity & T-shaped Mastery

The concept of a T-shaped business professional has its roots in a 1990 study on hybrid managers and have been used as a concept for selection and training by companies like Mckinsey & Co and IDEO.

In essence, T-shaped professionals have both deep and broad knowledge and expertise. They are typically trained across multiple disciplines and systems and have considerable depth in a one or two disciplines or systems.

The problem with most young professionals is that we tend to discount or do away with the whole notion of continual learning and growth after we step into the corporate workplace. We stop being curious and asking questions. Instead, we become comfortable with what we know. Hence, the proverbial curse of knowledge.

Yet, T-shaped mastery is key for a couple reasons

  1. Problem solving – with deep functional experience expressed by the T’s stem and with broad and diverse skills, executives can deploy a synergistic and convergent type of thinking to solve problems instead of being stubbornly fixated on that one way of doing things. Think how a marketing executive can get creative by understanding and appreciating budget constraints and tap into guerrilla marketing techniques.
  2. Relational lubricant – it is not uncommon to be working with co-workers across other functions or meeting executives at events from other fields, being broadly aware and informed gives you the ability gives you more talking points to establish common ground and connect in more meaningful manners. This way, you open more doors that would otherwise be closed to you because you thought you don’t speak their language!
  3. Organizational mastery – it keeps you a perspective of “being on top” of the business instead of just being “in the business” all the time. From a practical stand point, it aids you in communicating business agenda in a more holistic manner so you can seek more win-win partnerships instead of zero-sum games.

What executives can do – read widely and continually, upgrade yourselves with courses and seek specialist and coaches to deepen your learning and discover your blind spots.

2. Seek Mentorship

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that my growth is largely attributed to the intervention of my mentors. And I’m certain I’m not the first nor last person to invest in this belief.

The value of mentorship comes in when you have someone who has walked the talk or the path you like to see yourself walking 10 to 20 years down the road and are willing to commit in a mutually benefiting relationship that can forward both of you, professionally and personally.

In fact, I was an interviewee among 19 other entrepreneurs and “heavyweights” in a book called ‘Seek to Keep – How to find the best mentors and keep them’.

The biggest challenge facing young professionals is often in the approaching of mentors. Often times, the biggest barrier is ourselves.

We stop short by doubting ourselves and our potential mentors on why they would want to invest time and energy on us. But the truth is what’s the worst that could happen?

Rejections? And then we move on. Yet from my experiences, a lot of senior executives and entrepreneurs out there who are likewise playing mentor roles do it willingly and without expecting anything in return because they feel they are passing on the light.

In my blog, I’ve mentioned three ways young professionals can go about establishing mentoring relationship,

  1. Give advice (and solutions) to your mentors – find out what are your key expertise and knowledge that will be of value to your mentors and give generously
  2. Give connections to your mentors – are you widely connected to people across different circuits? If yes, be a relationship broker and make connections happen for your mentors
  3. Give your word that you will give it your all while putting their advice into action – don’t be a smooth talker and empty vessel. Make the best use of your mentor’s energy and time and commit to action. Evaluate and update your mentor of your progress

In short, make the best on their investment in time, energy and resources on you and evidence them in your growth.

3. Get Out There and Network, Period!

I know. Not everyone is comfortable with networking because one, it takes you out of your comfort zone and two, the stereotypes and associations with networking can be sometimes, negative.

The first part is probably no stranger to me since I’m an introvert by nature as well but for professionals who think they are shy or not so sociable, you need to know the magic is in taking the first step.

Secondly about stereotypes and associations, I’m for the belief that networking in essence is still relationship building and we should be all familiar with that from various people who speaks on building meaningful relationships.

Like it or not, the truth is people don’t buy what you do or sell but people buy you as an individual first. But if you don’t take the first step to be out there (either physically or digitally), who’s going to buy you?

Treat networking as a process of being genuinely interested to know someone else and when the relationship has been built, that it makes a lot more sense to mention about business agenda. Never step into a networking space with the mentality of a “hunter” because people can sniff it from miles away.

I once had a client who had issues networking because she thought that networking was about being putting up a false or fake front but after coaching her, she realized a lot of the misconceptions was all due to the projections of mistrust she had displaced from herself onto the people she meet at networking.

Recognizing that gave her a lot of clarity and freedom and let her embrace networking as freely without any prior judgments or misconceptions and most importantly, enjoy it.

So where can young professionals network?

  1. Trade specific organizations – Like the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore (ICPAS) for the accounting professionals and the equivalents like Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation (SITF) for IT professionals, Asia Professional Speakers Singapore (APSS) for professionals who want to develop themselves as professional speakers
  2. Professional organizations – Young Women Leadership Council (YWLC), Primetime Singapore, organizations for Professionals, Mangers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs) and Business Network International (BNI)
  3. Voluntary & interest based organizations – Lions, Rotary and Toastmasters

The key here is to start and commit to growing your social capital.

You don’t have to come off as a social butterfly (if you can, great) but be willing to stay open in reaching out. You never know who’s the next person who may lead you to a next business lead, job referral or even… soul mate! I kid you not.

4. Be Visible and Seen For Your Merits and Value

Visibility is about ensuring you are known and seen and for the right reason and cause, of course.

My experience is that young professionals in Singapore (and Asia) tend not to be comfortable with “blowing their own trumpets” even though they are outstanding in their own right and have done great work.

My business mentor who is an American growing up in New York shared with me how people in the US are taught to stand out and be remarkable while people in Asia tend to play down their achievements and not want to be in the limelight because it makes them feel as if they stick out like a sore thumb.

The Japanese proverb has some truth here.

“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”

Singaporeans and Asians, in general are known to be industrious and steady workers but to up the ante, is really to be comfortable of selling ourselves especially to people that matter like our management in the boardroom and for entrepreneurs, our clients and investors.

We need to get comfortable being seen for who we are and what we can be capable of.

What can be done?

  1. Do a self-audit of your achievements and mistakes every quarterly – this way, you keep track of what you’ve done and not done. For all that you’ve done, ask yourself, “What can I appreciate myself for in making this project or endeavor happen or not happen?”
  2. Have an accountability and acknowledgement partner – an accountability partner holds you to your commitments and at the same time, acknowledge you if you have difficulties acknowledging yourself. He or she is like your source of “soft love” if you are especially known to be tough on yourself.
  3. Be conscious about how and what you talk about yourself – take some time to reflect on how you’ve presented yourself to new faces and if you have trusted associates, do a 1 minute spiel of yourself and your key highlights and ask for feedback. Were you too uncertain, overly-modest or hesitant? Work on it.

Yes, self-promotion, especially without substance is shame.

But once you are certain you are growing and doing great work, the next step is really to be seen by who needs to see you.

One immediate platform for visibility that’s most accessible but often neglected is to serve. Whether it’s to volunteer for your industry organization, be an emcee in your company event or take lead in a new initiative, it’s all about taking that one step forward in the spirit of service.

5. Establish Thought Leadership

Related to visibility and the depth of mastery as in the T-shape professional is the part about thought leadership. Young professionals as they scale higher up on the corporate ladder need to know that the premium you command is not just merely related to your social and emotional capital, but also, your intellectual capital and mastery.

I recently worked closely with the CEO Asia of a global Australian infrastructure management group for a coaching assignment and was wildly inspired by how he was able to think rapidly on the spot and come up with data of various industries in a manner that lend gravity and meaning to the discussion. That only happened because he invested thoroughly in being a leader in thought and analysis of his industry agenda.

Establishing thought leadership is about being comfortable and competent in articulating thoughts and beliefs about your trade and industry in an insightful and engaging manner.

With technology these days, it’s so much easier to establish thought leadership in the online spaces. It is a powerful form of self-marketing because your knowledge and thought processes can be distilled in the public sphere and better still, be able to attract a following.

What young professionals can do?

  1. Start and commit to shipping great content regularly – if CEOs of multinationals like Thomson Reuters, Saatchi & Saatchi and Zappos can blog about their issues and perspectives, there’s no excuse for young professionals to complain there’s no time? Blogging is an accessible and cost-effective way of scaling your knowledge and beliefs
  2. Leverage social media and crowdsourcing platforms – platforms for professional networking like Linkedin have the groups function where professionals can ask questions and comment on popular themes. Other platforms like Quora, a content sharing and aggregator site allows you to learn and share your knowledge.
  3. Be incisive, analytical and critical of trends, patterns and behaviors – don’t just take what you consume for the whole truth. There is much value in synthesizing and corroborating information from multiple sources and seeing things from different perspectives and vantage points. When we become slipshod in our thinking, we gradually become lax in our action and execution as well.

* This article was originally prepared for a radio interview for Mediacorp Singapore’s News 938 Live – A Slice of Life program.

Question: how else do you think young professionals can up their chances of being successful in this world we live in? What are some of things they need to know or master?

This post is also published on my LinkedIn here.