It can be more important than skills, background or connections.
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Not all of us are dealt the same deck of cards when it comes to career.
Maybe you’re not yet as experienced or skilled as someone else. Maybe you’re not as eloquent or analytical. But, if you bring a simple, yet deeply important quality to every aspect of your work, people will gravitate toward you. They’ll sincerely want to work with you. They’ll give you opportunities to prove yourself.
This quality sounds as simple as it is important: positive energy.
Related: The Power of a Positive Mindset
When I say positive energy, I mean much more than just “being nice.”
People can be nice, but ineffective. People can be nice, but B+ employees or leaders. Positive energy runs far deeper — it’s a sunny, upbeat attitude combined with grit, resourcefulness and determination. Research from the University of Carolina has shown that positive emotions make us better problem solvers, more creative, more productive and more collaborative, effective team members.
This belief has proven true time and time again throughout my career, both when I look inwardly and outwardly at the successes of those I’ve worked with.
Positive energy provided me with the first thing we all need in order to achieve: a chance.
I came to appreciate this philosophy for the first time when I was a new college grad working at Bain & Company, an industry-leading global management consultancy in Boston. I started right after graduation and promptly got in over my head. I spent all my time playing catch-up, trying to learn all I could about what on Earth I was supposed to be doing.
Toward the end of the first year, I was one of two choices to be part of a big consulting project. The choice was between me and another member of that year’s cohort, a brilliant MIT grad (I’ll call her Jen). Jen was truly impressive. I remember feeling like she could do everything that I couldn’t do.
Jen was also, however, a bit of a grouch.
One day as I was passing by a manager’s desk, my name written on a note caught my eye. I didn’t mean to snoop, but I couldn’t help but take a quick peek. “Jaleh has a great attitude. Jen is way more qualified.”
That was that, I thought.
I was pretty surprised, then, when I found out that I’d been chosen over Jen.
This made a huge impression on me. It proved to me yes, attitude does matter. And sometimes, it matters even more than the level of competence you’ve acquired. My positive attitude had provided a prime opportunity to prove I had what it took to succeed.
If you work smart and hard, all you need is a chance.
But, when I said that I’d gotten in over my head at Bain, I meant it — I knew I’d have to work really hard. I’d studied political science as a Harvard undergrad. I was the only person from that year’s batch of new hires without a quantitative background. I didn’t know how to create a spreadsheet. Heck, I didn’t even know how to use a calculator properly.
But, they seemed to like me — I remember a manager calling me “spunky” — so they gave me time to grow.
And eventually, through lots of extra effort — including months of spending my lunch hour in a dark room watching training videos on plotting the growth share matrix and giving a good presentation — I improved.
I think they felt their gamble on a “spunky” but under-qualified college grad paid off in the end.
Twenty years later, when I was the boss, I made a gamble of my own.
I was working at OpenTable when one afternoon, I got a phone call from a young woman, Annie, whom I’d known a few years earlier. She’d babysat my son when he was little and was calling to tell me that she’d moved to San Francisco after finishing college.
She said, “I haven’t found a job yet. Do you have any ideas?”
It just so happened that I was looking for someone to assemble media kits, as it was becoming increasingly clear our marketing coordinator didn’t appreciate the admittedly boring task. I already knew and liked Annie, but more than anything, I was tired of the “bored” vibes from the marketing coordinator.
So, I asked Annie if she had a few hours to assemble some kits.
Her response? “I’d love to!”
Two hours later, she came into our office beaming like a ray of sunshine.
That day, Annie happily assembled the kits and quickly became a favorite with the rest of the team. Her positive energy and willingness to help made it easy for my colleagues to ask her to assist with other tasks, and before long, she was hired as the junior member of our department.
While she had little experience, she learned quickly and began climbing the ranks. She exhibited the traits I’ve observed in many successful people throughout my career — grit, determination and a positive attitude.
When our paths crossed again recently, I wasn’t surprised to find out that Annie has continued to excel. Today, she’s a vice president at a successful PR firm.
We all want to work with an Annie. But, how exactly do you cultivate positive energy? Here are five ways:
1. Be insanely resourceful.
People with positive energy are relentlessly determined. They know companies need solutions, not problems, so they focus on finding answers. They can figure anything out, whether that means watching videos, listening to podcasts, or talking to someone with more expertise. And they’re constantly learning and growing.
2. Learn the art of respectful disagreement.
Debates should always revolve around ideas, not individuals, and people with positive energy understand this deeply. They don’t take criticism personally. Just as importantly, they know how to offer feedback so that the person on the receiving end doesn’t feel inferior and how to disagree with an idea while displaying respect for the person.
3. Be genuinely caring.
People with positive energy care about their organizations more than most. And not only about the business itself, but about the people who work there, too.
When so-and-so is ill, they are the first to send them home and cover their workload. If a coworker looks unhappy or anxious, they take a genuine interest in trying to help. They instigate fun in the office and delight in other people’s success.
4. But, don’t be a mindless cheerleader.
While being supportive of peers and leaders is important, people with positive energy know that it’s equally important to speak their minds when they disagree with something or recognize an issue. Mindless cheerleaders, on the other hand, are supportive to a fault.
Every business faces issues and no leader should be trusted blindly. Someone who truly cares about a business — and the people within it — will speak up, identify problems and work to bring solutions.
5. Find a way to truly enjoy your work, no matter what it is.
People with positive energy find something to love in what they do. They know anything worth doing is difficult. Because of this, they can uplift and encourage others in the face of adversity.
Alternatively, I’ve known smart, talented people who somehow always find a way to dislike their job. These people are rarely grateful, seldom happy — and not as successful as they could be.
We all have our moments when it’s difficult to summon positive energy. Trust me, I know!
But, consider positivity a “north star” as you move through your career and it will pay dividends in two ways: first, you’ll be more successful.
But, second, and even more importantly, you’ll be happier.