Have you asked yourself this question? What would your supervisor or client say about you to other people? As professionals, we often direct our focus on our competence. We think about how to be better at what we do. We read books and articles on improving our craft or our skills because we are ambitious and this would seem to be the best way to achieve our ambitions. Competence, however, is only one part of the experience for people who work with you.
Here's an example. I work with a client who, especially when I started with them, existed in a highly pressurized environment. There were simply too few people doing too much work, which is why I was brought in. As part of the work I did, there were many instances where I needed files from my client's servers, and was not permitted to have remote access. I have always believed that I would rather spend two hours driving in and getting the files myself, than to ask anyone who worked there to spend ten minutes tracking down the file and emailing it to me.
Why would I do this? After all, ten minutes is not a lot of time, especially compared to my two hours. I did it because I wanted to make the experience of working with me as positive as I possibly could. And for a group of people who were feeling stretched so thinly, the last thing they needed was an interruption, even if it was only for ten minutes. I absolutely did not want their experience with me to be a source of frustration or stress when that was the norm for them. When they thought of my name, I wanted them to think, "I don't have to worry about Andy. He's got it covered." I did everything I could to be an oasis of calm in their hectic work lives.
Notice that the issue of competence has been completely absent from this discussion? So where, then, does the professional competence fit into all this?
Competence is important, but only in how it fits into the overall experience of working with you. I think I'm very good at the things I do: creative project management and writing, primarily. I think it's absolutely essential to meet a fairly high level of competence. In other words, you have to be able to do the job you've been hired to do. But I know that there are a lot of people who are "very good" at managing creative projects, and "very good" at writing. And from your client's or supervisor's perspective, whether you're "very good" or "very, very good" isn't critically important. That's when it matters how easy you are to work with, or how much they simply like you and enjoy your company.
It all comes down to this: How well do you contribute to your client's basic human need to be happy?
For a lot of people, this represents a shift in thinking. Start by training yourself to constantly monitor how your clients/supervisors/colleagues perceive you. If you sense that they are happy with your work and enjoying your company, you're on the right track. If you sense that this isn't the case, resist the urge to be defensive and ask yourself honestly what you can do to turn it around. In the long run, if you can master this, you'll never run out of work.
Marta Kagan's "Bonafide Marketing Genius" Blog
Andre Sanders' "Running Without Condition" Blog
Jessica Sneeringer's "Mal-Diction" Blog