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  • Linda R. Taliaferro

What College Can’t Teach You about Corporate America

A lot. Sonya Moore discovered that real quick.

She strode into Kellogg’s about 20 years ago thinking, “I got this. I’m good.” And she did — but just the technical side of her job thanks to her BS and MS in engineering. What 6+ years of college didn’t teach her?

These 8 lessons:

8 Corporate Success Lessons You Won’t Learn in School

Moore learned 8 lessons on her climb to launching hybrid vehicles for the big 3 automakers; leading 15-member teams through footprint consolidation; and managing multimillion-dollar projects for major companies. They helped her get to the top of her game and tell about it in books on lean manufacturing and professional meeting dynamics. And she’s here today to share them with you.

Lesson #1: You Don’t Learn EVERYTHING in College

Sure. You can get book smarts at university — but you won’t learn a thing about navigating corporate America. Because it’s a whole different animal.

So if you’re just getting started, get ready to learn all about workplace politics, and how to leverage them to get ahead (without stepping on anyone along the way).

Lesson #2: Criticism Is Critical Information

No one is perfect. But that doesn’t make it any easier to hear negative feedback about your work or, worse, your office behavior. Your first reaction might be…

“Who are you talking about? That’s not me!”

That’s why it’s so important to learn how to handle negative criticism like a leader. Ask yourself if what your boss or colleague is saying is really true. Then autocorrect. Make the necessary improvements. At the end of the day, whether they’re right or wrong is not as critical as how you use the information they give you. Treat it like rocket fuel. And take off!

Lesson #3: Autocorrect the Mistakes You See

Ever walked away from a professional conversation thinking, “Uh, I probably shouldn’t have said that.” Then brushed it aside because it’s too late to apologize?

It’s time to change that.

One of the most powerful pieces of advice Moore received from a mentor was, “Don’t embarrass someone in public and apologize to them in private.” Ever since then, she’s had no qualms about calling up a colleague to say “sorry” or CCing EVERYONE from the conference meeting to make her apology to a team member public.

Lesson #4: Your Delivery Is Everything

How you deliver your message is more important than the message itself. The last thing you want is to trigger the other person’s defenses. Do that, and you might as well be talking to a wall.

And though no one deserves to be stereotyped, many prominent women have had to deal with being called “the angry Black woman” after a blowup.

Always wait until you’ve calmed down after a triggering event before you approach the other person to talk.

Lesson #5: Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Everyone comes from different backgrounds. Everyone has different abilities. And everyone approaches the corporate climb differently.

That’s why self-discovery and self-awareness are so important on your journey. When you know what you know about yourself — then there’s no question about your worth or where you should be in your career.

Lesson #6: Make Sure You’re in the Right Seat on the Bus…

…The driver’s seat.

Because you are responsible for steering your career in the direction you want it to go. Your company, your department, your position — those are just the vehicles. If they’re broken, ditch ‘em.

Many times? You’re stuck in the back seat because you’re scared. Or because you have personal issues you need to deal with before you can move forward. In those cases, progress is an inside job.

Lesson #7: Check for the Common Denominator

If you keep changing departments, companies, or careers, it’s time to look for the common denominator: the one factor present in all of these situations.

No one likes to hear this, but sometimes that’s you. Like I always say, you can go everywhere, and there you are. And if you’re ready to work on you, I can help. Book your 1-on-1, so we can start the conversation.

Lesson #8: Always Say “YES” to Mentorship and Sponsorship

Both Moore and I would not be where we are today without all the mentors and sponsors who helped us along the way. Because you need someone to call you on your stuff on this journey, so why not have it be someone wiser (& someone who’s already rooting for you)?

What Lessons Have You Learned on Your Corporate Journey?

If you’ve been playing the corporate game, you’ve likely learned your own lessons. And I’d love to hear all about them. DM me on Facebook.

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