This article was originally published by Brien Dunphy on LinkedIn.
Some years back, I watched a professional sports team play an incredibly dispirited last game of their regular season. The team had high hopes for the year and most "experts" expected them to make the playoffs. However, the season didn't go as planned. Injuries hit, players underperformed, and losses piled up. It was a sad ending to what was supposed to be a successful year. The team's energy was flat, the scoreboard reflected it, and everywhere you looked presented listless players just going through the motions… that is all but one player. While the rest of the team groggily trudged through the game waiting for their disappointing season to mercifully come to an end; this one player was pure energy and effort. By the end of the game, he had achieved a career best day.
During the post-game interview, he was asked how he managed to play so well and with such energy in a game that "didn't matter." His answer is forever stuck in my head. After waxing briefly about personal pride, he said something incredibly insightful and practical. He said, "Every game matters. And even if you're playing with no chance of making the playoffs, you're always playing for your next contract."
Many would give up, thinking there's no reason to put forth the effort to perform well in a game they are bound to lose, in a season that is almost over. This athlete, however, knew he wasn't only playing for that moment, or that game, he was playing for his next contract, whether it was going to be with a new team or his current team. This is true in pro sports and it's true in business. It's critical to perform well, whether you are on your way to success, or your dreams are currently being dashed. Why is it important? Personal pride and integrity? Absolutely! But not only that. It's also important because people are watching, and your reputation depends on it. And potential future opportunities hinge upon it as well.
Whether it's a promotion within your current company, a new client, or even a new job, there will be a next contract… a next "something." How you perform now sets you up for success in that next role wherever and whatever that might be. You must be intentional in how you perform now and show up as your best you until the end.
How can you set yourself up for success in your next role and play for your next contract?
Look For Ways to Develop Yourself
Even when the current reality appears bleak, find ways to challenge and stretch yourself. Consider how you can leverage the now. What skills can you develop that will lead to your next role or to future success in your current role? Focus on intentionally developing a learning mindset and work actively to grow your skill set and mindset. By changing your perspective to one of growth and progress, you are setting yourself up to finish strong now, and win bigger later.
Focus on Being the Clear Choice
Knowing your next "something" is watching intentionally cultivate your professional reputation. Commit to bringing value to every conversation, room, and situation you are in; especially when you're tempted to simply go through the motions. In the workplace, how others see you is more important than how you see yourself. Dr. Robert Hogan of the Hogan assessment says it this way, "In business, the you that you know is hardly worth knowing." Your reputation is the anchor to professional trust; and it is based on who you demonstrate yourself to be, not who you imagine yourself to be. Consider how others see you and work to develop an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses. Work actively to improve areas of weakness and confidently articulate your competence in the areas where you shine. Show those watching that you make good things happen. Be strategic, take initiative every day and show up well. Make it clear in your own mind that "No matter what happens, I show up. Every time."
Improve Your Leadership Skills
Develop your executive presence and actively avail yourself of the leadership opportunities you are passing up. (Trust me, they are there. If you don't see them, look with a more open mind). Be solution-focused and look for ways to be a problem solver. Anyone can be a critic and point out flaws, but not everyone can see a problem, find a way to solve it, and execute the solution. Communicate effectively and with intentionality. Focus on developing a positive attitude in less than positive circumstances. Keep a larger perspective and avoid being overcome by the current situation.
Focus on The Quality of Your Work
Find your energy in the quality of your work, instead of the outcome of your work. Just like with our athlete, the scoreboard and the team's record don't matter. Your only opponent is you. Your only goal is to be better today than you were the day before. Focus on the quality with which you perform your work, not on the task you are performing. You may not be able to control the outcomes, but you can control the effort and quality that you put forth. Your next "something" is watching. Show up and show them what they can expect.
Finally, ask yourself, what does success in this particular situation look like? You will perform best when you have a clear goal, a "North Star". It may not be what you originally envisioned, but challenges are simply opportunities in disguise, seize upon those opportunities. Decide to be a transformational influence in the situation by defining aspirational goals in the face of melancholy; then chase those goals!
Regardless of the record, the scoreboard, or the work environment, your next "something" is watching and waiting to see how you show up. You are always playing for your next contract.