Future of Work

4 key principles for a successful career

Bill McDermott
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ServiceNow
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Future of Work

I was a kid when I heard the words that helped shape my career.

“Bill, always remember,” my mother said before bed, “the best part of you is you.”

Wow.

With these seven words, my mother taught me to honor my instincts, pursue my desires, believe in my potential, and stay true to my passions. Most important, she taught me to trust myself especially when others did not.

Today, my mom’s advice can be condensed into two words: Be authentic.

I’ve spent my life committed to staying true to myself. Yet at almost every phase of my career, my authenticity had been challenged.

I’m not alone. We all come up against pressures — corporate dynamics, social expectations, rules of engagement, public opinion, our own fears — that put us in positions to make choices or act in ways not in line with who we are, what we want, or what we believe.

And while we must make compromises — and not cross boundaries of respectability — the real trick is not to make so many concessions that we compromise our true selves.

So with Mom’s advice as a foundation, I’ve followed a few principles to keep my career on an authentic track:

Remember, no one cares about your career as much as you.

In my twenties, I was told to temper my drive, to patiently wait for opportunities to find me. But I was ready to become a manager before my company thought I was old enough. So I lobbied for a chance to interview for a management position. I got the job, which I would never have been considered for had I not asked to be.

Like me, you have dreams, but it’s no one’s responsibility to ensure your dreams come true. That’s up to you. So take initiative. Identify and go after opportunities to ensure that your career path is paved by your desires — not by chance or circumstance.

Use your words, not someone else’s.

In my thirties, a colleague told me to stop using the word “passion” when I spoke to my teams. Others insisted my enthusiastic communication style didn’t fit in with our staid culture. I wasn’t trying to stand out — I was just being me. While I did tone it down at times, squelching my expressive nature would have meant abandoning my voice.

How we express ideas is as important as the ideas themselves. Better our language be authentic to us than acceptable to others. If not, the message — as well as people’s trust in us — is lost.

Choose to do what you do well.

I’m no expert in all areas of business, but I do know how to paint a vision of success, inspire people to believe they can achieve it, and equip them to execute. That’s what I do. In my forties and to this day, I am often urged to lower my goals because others worry they are impossible to meet. But because I trust my ability to motivate others to perform and grow, I don’t back down. I’m realistic, but I have no interest in mediocrity or maintaining the status quo, even if they’re safer bets.

When we put ourselves in positions that emphasize our strengths, we maintain confidence in our abilities and aspirations, and are less susceptible to naysayers who try and steer us off our course.

Commit to emotional honesty.

Throughout my career, whenever something or someone has surprised me, or when I’m overcome with happiness, excitement, or sadness — I let it show. I have skipped work to celebrate the joyous birth of my colleagues’ children and changed travel plans to join coworkers in mourning when parents pass away.

Emotions reveal to others what moves us and what matters. Expressing our feelings is the most authentic thing we can do at work.

Creating a career of authenticity is a challenge at every age and every stage. If anything, the pressure to conform increases. Don’t succumb.

Honor your dreams, use your voice, believe in your skills, express your heart.

Bottom line, trust yourself. Because the best part of you really is you.

Thanks, Mom. Everything I was, am or ever will be I owe all to you.

This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

To keep up with the Agenda subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Author: Bill McDermott is CEO at SAP

Image: Ndeye Astou Fall, 22, works at a call centre in Senegal’s capital Dakar, June 23, 2006. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

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