Five Tips to Succeed in a US Workplace

The American proverb “The squeaky wheels gets greased” teaches us that attention will be paid to people (or problems) that are most noticeable. It is in stark contrast to the Japanese proverb “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down“. Or the Australian idea that “The tall poppy gets cut down“. These urge conformity and modesty, respectively. Americans learn, largely through their educational system, to get ahead by speaking up, standing out, and ultimately cultivating a strong identity rooted in individualism. These same values carry over into the workplace.

Here are five ways that US leaders get noticed and find success:

1. Be visible.

In addition to being present in the office, successful leaders make themselves visible by being accessible outside the office by email or phone. (Of course, within reason and based on the organizational culture.) They are also visible in their industry at large. For example, they participate in professional organizations and conferences

2. Be optimistic.

Americans have an internal locus of control. As a result, they believe that they are in control of their destiny and able to influence events and outcomes. They are positive about achievements and successes, small and large. Conseuqently, even the delivery of negative feedback tends to get sandwiched between two positives.

3. Be persistent.

Americans like “Plan A” and the underlying idea that with enough effort, time, money, and technology, anything is possible. Of course, in reality businesses have a Plan B (or C). However, American flexibility often lies in the options available to reach Plan A rather than the ability to switch to a different plan. In a strong culture of individuals, the idea of options is motivating.

4. Be responsive.

Americans draw a distinction between a response and an answer. It is a culture where time is a (the most?) valuable resource, recognition is important, and courtesy counts. Consequently, people not only value, but also expect acknowledgement of their outreach. If the message contains a question to which there is not yet an answer, the assumption is that the recipient will still respond. The response will simply let the sender know when an answer can be expected.

5. Be confident and able to self-promote.

The ability to speak confidently about the experiences and accomplishments that distinguish you from your peers is a key ingredient in the American recipe for getting ahead. Promotions, rewards, and respect often depend on it to an extent. While nobody appreciates bragging, tell it as it is. For example, a person with 10 years of experience should say, “I have 10 years of experience” rather than “I have some experience” with the expectation that the listener will read through the modesty. Not sure how to do it? This is one of our favorite articles on “Self-Promotion for Professionals from Countries Where Bragging Is Bad“.

Many US organizations, bosses, and colleagues will be alert to the presence, or absence, of the above leadership traits. Perception is reality. So, the highest levels of technical skills will not mitigate interpersonal skills that are not culturally aligned. Optimistically speaking, consider it an opportunity to look at a side of the position that you haven’t in the past. 


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