Alexandra Levit is the author of Blind Spots: 10 Business Myths You Can't Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. A former VP of Public Relations and syndicated columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Levit is also the author of New Job, New You and How Did You Score That Gig? She recently served on the Business Roundtable's Springboard Project, which advised the Obama administration on current workplace issues.
We asked her a few questions about Blind Spots.
What led you to write this book?
I wrote Blind Spots because I was tired of reading silly theories and platitudes dispensed by business and career authors who sell their work by giving these myths credibility and by telling readers what they want to hear. I wanted to be honest with people about what will render them successful in today’s business world, not yesterday’s. I felt people needed an alternative to the overly provocative advice that hasn’t worked for anyone I know, like quitting your job tomorrow and starting your own business the next day, or marching into your boss’ office and announcing that he should appreciate your individuality.
How did you come up with your list of ten blind spots? Can you tell us about one blind spot have you encountered in your own life – and how you have managed to navigate through it.
I surveyed a few hundred people and asked them about the biggest myths they’d encountered in business, and that’s how I came up with the list. I’ve experienced most of the myths personally, but the one that has had the biggest impact on my career is: “being good at your job trumps everything.” It has taken me years to learn that putting your nose to the grindstone and churning out work like there’s no tomorrow doesn’t mean anything if people aren’t aware of what you do and think it’s important. This has led me to try to become more visible about my contributions, even though sometimes it makes me uncomfortable.
How can knowing – and addressing your blind spots – help you advance your career?
If living life with these blind spots didn't get you places before, it really won't today, when employers want to hire people with Puritan work ethics, people who want to do their jobs well without rocking the boat too much and who are strong representatives of the organization’s culture. If you want to get ahead in this values-driven environment, turning the other way is not an option and you can't afford to waste time. You must throw away these myths, determine what will work in their place, and immediately put it to use. If you do, you’ll find yourself three steps ahead of most of your competition.
The late author Walker Percy once made the wry observation: Why is it that the first person we look for in a group photo is ourselves? Shouldn’t we already know what we look like? Similarly, what’s the best way to find out what your blind spots are – without having to “crash and burn” before discovering where they are?
Self-awareness, which may be defined as being conscious of what you’re good at while acknowledging what you still need to learn, is one of the most underrated career traits. In order to improve it, you have to routinely ask colleagues for their feedback, preferably one project at a time and anonymously. It’s also a good idea to take a bunch of your old performance reviews and look for patterns – is there one area for improvement that keeps coming up time and time again? It’s probably time to address it.
In the book, you recommend “not” trying to climb the corporate ladder as fast as you can. Why is this – and what are skills you can develop as your career progresses?
Getting promoted year after year requires a near-constant vigilance as well as a laser sharp focus on work – often to the detriment of everything else in your life. Higher titles usually bring longer hours, heavier responsibilities, and more politicking with them. Instead of trying to climb the ladder as fast as you can, work on developing transferable skills that are relevant across a wide range of industries and roles, like project management, finance, sales, marketing, and client relations.
If you’ve been blind-sided by an unexpected situation at work or in your career, what’s the fastest way to make a comeback? Or is a fast comeback less desirable?
Focus on the areas of your life that haven’t been affected by the bad situation – for example your hobbies or community involvement. As you strive to rebuild things, continue to network inside and outside your organization, and take on new projects that will restore your confidence. And finally, it’s critical to spend some time taking stock of what went wrong and how you can prevent a similar outcome next time. Assessing the situation honestly and talking about your insights with close friends and family will put the negativity in its proper context and allow you to start anew without regret.
What’s the question no one asks you that they really should?
No one asks me if it’s actually practical to find your blind spots and course-correct, and the answer is yes. Reading this book, I think people will see that a lot of what it takes to be successful is already a part of who they are, and that they absolutely have the power to cultivate the skills and attitude that will take them wherever they want to go, now and in the future.
To get in touch with Alexandra and order a copy of Blind Spots, see AlexandraLevit.com