Most of us work very hard. We arrive at the office early and stay late. And we pride ourselves on being “helpers,” lending a hand with everything and anything, from taking on extra tasks for urgent short-term projects to arranging cake for monthly office birthday celebrations in the conference room.

Many of us are terrific worker bees. But are we working in a way that makes the best use of our skills and moves our career forward?

Camila is an intelligent, likable young sales analyst who wants to move her career forward. She works hard as well, putting in extra hours at the office, and offering to help in a variety of departmental projects. She’s developed a reputation for getting things done, and is appreciated for her willingness to pick up a task — any task.

After three years, however, promotions are coming slowly. Camila has the ambition, and believes she has the skills, but wonders if she’s going about things the wrong way.

“Camila’s underlying issue is that while she’s developed a reputation for being a wonderful worker, her long hours and work-on-anything attitude is defining how her supervisors perceive her, and that is limiting her career opportunities,” said Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching.  “She is a few years out of college, but work is not like college — do the assignments, get the grade, and advance. Camila needs to develop her strategic skills and take an approach to work that will position her as an emerging leader. And that does not mean simply putting in extra hours or volunteering for every chore that comes along.”

Steps to Move From Worker Bee to Strategic Thinker

What can Camila do to progress from her current worker bee role to up-and-coming strategic asset and leader?

1. Practice “thinking above your position.” Perry notes that, “First, Camila needs to start thinking differently about her work and her role. And that means thinking strategically. Because she is so task oriented, Camila works with blinders on — she’s not giving any thought to her company’s big picture.” People who spend time learning and thinking about trends in their industry, what variables drive the culture and profitability of their company, and how their work connects with the larger mission and goals of their organization are thinking strategically.

2. Speak strategically — ask strategic questions. Once Camila thinks more strategically, she can begin to ask questions and express herself in ways that relate her work to her company’s strategy — moving away from her focus on getting tasks accomplished. Strategic thinkers communicate in ways that identify and prioritize what’s truly essential and express the broader ramifications and impact of their work. Over time, Camila will be perceived differently as she moves away from a checklist mentality to one that views the company and her work strategically.

3. Commit to working on the things that matter. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day. It’s easy to offer to do work that everyone appreciates, but has no strategic value. Using Stephen Covey’s 2×2 time management matrix, Camila has an opportunity to intentionally connect her work to the company’s big picture by focusing on what is truly important in her work — even if there’s no impending deadline. The quadrant where “important” and “not urgent” work occurs is the space where strategic thinking happens and where the big, critical projects take shape. This is the most important of all quadrants for strategists and leaders. “Camila would benefit immensely from blocking out time on a regular basis to work in this ‘important but not urgent’ quadrant,” says Perry. For more about Covey’s matrix and prioritizing work, read Arden Coaching’s  “Are You Working on the Right Things?”

4. Make sure you are being “seen” internally. Camila needs to increase her exposure at work. An important way in which to be seen is networking. While most of what is written about networking relates to external events and making connections outside the organization, the concepts and techniques of networking apply equally well internally — particularly in a larger corporate setting. For more about networking, read Arden Coaching’s “Four Networking Traps to Avoid.”

5. Find an internal sponsor. A great deal has been written about mentoring. Mentors are generally understood to be experienced and trusted advisers and guides — a sponsor is not a mentor. A sponsor is typically a senior leader who recognizes someone’s skills, thinks highly of that person’s potential, and decides to become an active champion for their development and advancement. A sponsor can connect Camila to their networks and contacts, advocate for assignment to high-profile projects, and open doors to new, high-value experiences. Sponsors are especially valuable in a larger corporate setting.

While sponsors usually select their protégés, Camila can identify a potential sponsor for herself by seeking out senior leaders who have backgrounds and networks most suited to help her advance in sales and marketing, make decisions about project assignments and promotions, and might benefit from her career advancement.

To learn more about developing strategic thinking and leadership skills, contact Arden Coaching at info@ardencoaching.com or 646.684.3777.