I can proudly say that I’ve accepted jobs even though I knew (and my new manager knew) that I didn’t have a clue how to do some or all of that job. In fact, I seem to have made a career of doing just that. If you attended my webinar in January, you’ll remember that I spoke a bit about it.
I was awarded an 18-month Fellowship immediately following conferral of my doctorate to support a Department of Defense agency, managing a multi-million dollar budget and coming up with new programs that would result in medical technologies for our Warfighters. I think I missed that class in grad school.
Then I was hired as a (drum roll, please) Director. Mmmm hmm. Granted, it was at a start-up company, and I was brought in as employee #11, but I was charged with growing an entire Division supporting federal government programs in science and technology, something I had no clue how to do. But I was open to the opportunity, and they were willing to teach me.
Then I decided that I was done with government work, and moved clear across the country. I took a position in a non-profit family foundation, running basic research programs in neuroscience and infectious disease. Ok, so I knew how to run extramural research programs, but had no experience in the non-profit sector, and infectious disease was a whole new world to me. After a mere 18 months in that role, I had the opportunity to move into a Director position yet again. This time, though, I would be responsible for the business development and legal (related to intellectual property) aspects of biomedical product development. I had no experience on the legal side, and my business development expertise was purely related to providing scientific subject matter experts to the U.S. Government.
I can also say that I have never been laid off or fired from a position. That Fellowship turned into almost seven years working in that agency before I moved on. That first Director roll? I won a few contracts and grew my Division from just little old me to a cross-functional staff of 15 financial analysts, scientific project managers, and administrative staff in three years, with more in the pipeline upon my departure. At the foundation, I inherited about $10M in research programs, and kicked off another $16M in new programs. And in my current role, I’ve had some early successes in strategy development and business development.
So how do I do it? I make myself invaluable. And it’s something that can be done with just a little bit of effort. Here are a few tips that I’ve learned along the way (not in any particular order).
1. Always be on time. Show up to work on-time. Show up to meetings on-time.
2. Pay attention, and leave your phone in your office when you go to meetings. Be present.
3. Due your due diligence. Make sure your work products are professional and complete. And for Pete’s sake, use grammar and spell-check!
4. Do NOT be afraid to take on new responsibilities. It’s how you learn new skills and new information. Find the right people to guide you. Take online courses. Attend webinars. If something seems difficult, break it down into easily digestible pieces, and start tackling it.
5. Never say, “That’s not my job.” If someone has asked you to do it, consider it your job.
6. Know when to delegate, but don’t micro-manage. No one likes a micromanager.
7. Know the capabilities of your staff and workmates, and lead my example. Teach your staff how to do things that are new to them, and be more of a mentor than a boss. They will appreciate it, and the product will be a lot better.
8. Be a team-player. Seek the advice of your co-workers, and get their input early. Be as inclusive as possible.
9. Be approachable. And leave your personal problems at home.
10. Have a prepared mind. Be ready to take on a new opportunity when it presents itself. And come out swinging.
So there it is. That’s how I make myself invaluable. I also keep a bowl of chocolate around, which probably helps…