Be a Positive Influence

When I was a youngster and played in sanctioned junior tennis tournaments, I studied “The Code,” which is a supplement to the official rules of tennis. The fifth rule of The Code, “do not attempt to make a mockery of a match, whether winning or losing,” is my favorite. It means that you should compete and do the best you can to win the match with fair play and good sportsmanship. Otherwise, why play the match at all? I believe the same holds true for your career. Do it right or don’t do it at all.

In my career at Benefitfocus, I choose to be a positive influence. It helps me grow in my own role and when I work with other associates. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and developed a list of what it means to be a positive influence:

  • Work hard with other talented associates and, together, help solve difficult business problems. Don’t try to do everything yourself and take credit for it. I tried “doing it all” when I was younger and it always backfired on me. Always.
  • Smile and keep things light as much as possible. This is my demeanor most of the time, even when the pressure is on and I have to work to meet a deadline or if something isn’t going my way.
  • Step up to the plate when necessary and complete tasks if others are unable. To achieve this, I keep my teammates informed as to what I’m working on and why… they appreciate the heads up!
  • Bring up issues with your manager/co-workers as soon as they arise; don’t wait and let things fester.
  • Be honest and admit mistakes; clients and colleagues deserve the truth.
  • Be responsible for yourself first. While I care about others and want to help my fellow associates, I can’t control what they do/how they feel, blame them for things or make them responsible for me.
  • Be appreciative. I say “thank you” a lot. After all, we all have a lot to be thankful for!
  • Speak well of your company and co-workers; it shows that you believe in them.

Everyone has bad days, and being a positive influence doesn’t mean putting on a happy face or faking it. In fact, being a positive influence means recognizing when things go wrong. Just as there are a lot of ways to demonstrate positivity, there are many to avoid. This is my “don’t” list:

  • Don’t say “yes” when you know the answer is “no”; this goes back to being honest. Saying “no” doesn’t mean that you have to be negative. I try to think about alternate solutions to problems, creative answers to issues and getting help from others. “No” may just be another way of saying “let’s try this from a different perspective.”
  • You don’t always have to be nice. If someone isn’t doing something he or she is supposed to and it affects the team or the company, point it out. A positive influence means calling out issues, in a respectful way, and getting everyone’s attention to focus on what needs to be done.
  • You don’t always have to be happy. Not smiling doesn’t automatically mean you’re trying to be negative. You might be having a difficult time with something, either at work or outside of work. I’m emotional, and people see me for who I am – with my ups and downs -- and not a robot that is always cheery. It’s ok; I will smile again soon.
  • Don’t assume. Ask questions when you want to know something. If you assume, it may affect your mood or motivation and send you on the wrong path. When I ask questions, I usually discover that I would have assumed incorrectly.
  • Don’t complain if things don’t always go your way; it doesn’t help. But do feel empowered to express your concerns and talk about issues. Being a positive influence means that you find ways of changing things that don’t work, not complaining about them.

Doing your job well and being a positive influence will be a reward in many ways. It will not only help your outlook on your career and your life, but others will notice and embrace the concept.

I’m not saying it’s easy or that I am 100% positive all of the time. There are times when things don’t happen fast enough for me. I don’t like it when things don’t go the way I think they should and can get discouraged sometimes. It’s okay – I come back to the things that matter to me. Am I making a difference? Am I helping? Am I doing what I love? If those answers keep coming up “yes” then I’m ok. If not, I need to think about doing something else.

A true test of whether or not I’m feeling the effects of being a positive influence is when I am asked to interview a prospective associate for a position here at Benefitfocus – both within my department and in other areas of the company. I’m always honored when I am asked to interview someone. It shows that another associate values my opinion in an important hiring decision.

Interviews, for me, are the perfect barometer of how I’m feeling now and how much I’m working towards being a positive influence for others. When the interviewee asks me the typical questions, like “do you like working here?” and “what is the team like?” I grin from ear to ear. Nothing’s better than telling someone honestly that you work at an award-winning company with the best, smartest, nicest people in the world. They are a positive influence on me. It’s my job to return the favor.