The Most Effective Way to Get Ahead in Your Career

One day, Narad muni asked Lord Vishnu, “Why is the statue of Garud (Vishnu’s eagle and vehicle) placed in your temples? Why not mine? Am I not your greatest devotee?”

Before Vishnu could answer, a crash was heard outside the main gate of Vaikuntha (Vishnu’s abode). “I have sent Garud on an errand. Can you check what happened, Narad?”, He requested. Keen on seizing the opportunity to prove himself, Narad rushed out and returned a few seconds later and said, “A milkmaid tripped and fell.”

“What was her name?” asked Vishnu. Narad ran out, spoke to the maid, returned and said, “Sharda.”

“Where was she going?” Narad ran out once again, and returned with the answer, “She was on her way to the market.”

“What caused her to trip?” Vishnu asked. Narad felt irritated, but he asked her. “She was startled by a snake crossing her path”, he said.

“Are all her pots broken” asked Vishnu. “I don’t know,” snapped Narad. “Find out, Narad. I might buy some milk,” Vishnu explained patiently. Visibly angry, Narad went out and returned. “She broke one pot. But another is intact. She is willing to sell the milk but at double price,” he said.

“So how much should I pay her?” Vishnu asked. “Oh. I forgot. Let me find out.” Narad started running back out. Right then, Garud flew in, oblivious to what had occurred outside. “Don’t bother,” Vishnu said to Narad. “Let me send Garud.” Vishnu turned to Garud and said, “I heard a crashing sound outside the main gate. Can you investigate?”

On returning, Garud said, “It was a milkmaid named Sharda. She was on her way to the market but tripped because she was startled by a serpent. She broke one of her two pots and is worried about how she will pay for the broken pot and spilt milk. I suggested she sell the milk to you.”

“And the price of the milk?” Vishnu asked. “Four copper coins,” Garud answered promptly. “One actually, but I think she wants to make a handsome profit because she is dealing with God.” Vishnu laughed and caught Narad’s eye, who understood why Garud’s statue, and not his, is always placed in front of the image of Lord Vishnu in His temples.

This penetrative story in Devdutt Pattanaik’s Business Sutra answers the most burning question in our minds – Why was he promoted over me? Yes, sometimes office politics dictates who gets promoted. But often, the people who are promoted deserve it because of their invisible Garud-like trait.

Doing good work is the most effective way of getting ahead at a job. However, doing our work well is not enough. And despite knowing this, most of us stay stuck in ‘the process’. The consequences of going beyond our role frighten us, or we are stuck in the ‘it’s-not-my-job’ syndrome. This presents a grand opportunity for you – an opportunity to stand out by taking initiative.

However, taking initiative is just the first step. How you complete the task is more important. You don’t want to end up complicating things for your manager, do you? He will have to clean up your mess apart from doing his work. Nobody is pleased when their workload increases. This is probably what scares most people from going beyond their job roles. If it scares you too, don’t worry. Here is a solution by Scott Herrick: prototyping.

Employees often think that they understand the requirements of a manager when he assigns a task to them. They turn the work in a week later – only to realize that it was nothing like the manager expected. True, even the manager is unsure of what the output must look like when he delegates it. This is where prototyping saves you time and helps you deliver amazing work.

Smart employees complete a portion of the work (an outline of a document, or a rough design of a presentation) and show it to their manager. Is the outline right? Is the formatting okay? Is this relevant to the targeted audience? This ensures that the manager is on the same page as them, or can make corrections early in the process. It also projects you as a ‘proactive employee’ rather than someone who ‘cannot do things right’. Good work and proactivity are more effective in helping you get ahead at work than self promotion, something that most of us don’t like indulging in.

Prototyping also helps you develop the Garud-like trait of anticipating what your manager wants.

Two things happen when you prototype: One, you can deliver good work within the deadline. Two, after a few productive prototyping discussions, your manager feels secure when he delegates tasks to you – a win-win for you and him.

In time, you become an indispensable asset, the very thought of losing which gives your manager sleepless nights. After that, a promotion or pay hike for you without asking for either is only a matter of time.

It isn’t your manager’s responsibility to get you ahead in your job – it’s yours. It isn’t your manager’s responsibility to chalk out your career path even if business books say so… it is yours. Take ownership of your career by developing the attitude of adding value in everything you do. If your manager requests you to check if the canteen is open, don’t return with a “yes” or  “no”. Ask him if he wants something specific to eat and check if it is available. This trait is more effective in getting you noticed than self-promotion. It establishes your reputation as a person who possesses the three mandatory traits for corporate success – credibility, reliability and predictability. Imbibe the attitude of taking initiative, and reap the rewards faster than others.


About the author:


Vishal is the founder of Aryatra, a venture which helps individuals improve their productivity and live more fulfilled lives. He also is a digital marketing consultant helping businesses generate revenue from their online presence.