Rise to the top: 10 career tips from Karren Brady

If you don’t know who Karren Brady is, it’s probably because you don’t watch The Apprentice, and if that’s the case, you’re probably missing out on one of the best and most useful reality TV shows that’s hit our TV screens in the last decade!

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am a huge fan of The Apprentice – in fact, I applied to become Lord Sugar’s new business partner back in 2011 but didn’t quite make it all the way to the show after passing a few audition rounds (*sniff sniff*).

"Strong Woman" and business role model, Karren Brady | Image courtesy of Taylor Herring PR

“Ambitious people have a spark that sets them apart. They don’t just accept their lot. They’re fighters and grafters and they claw their way out of often difficult circumstances.” – ‘Strong Woman’ and business role model, Karren Brady

Digression aside, when Karren Brady first replaced Margaret Mountford as Sir Alan’s business sidekick (opposite Nick Hewer) back in 2009, I immediately took a liking to her and made a mental note to get a copy of her autobiography, Strong Woman, when it was first released last year.

I’ve finally got round to both buying and reading the new edition and even though I’m only three chapters into it, it’s packed full of such great advice and tips for career success that’s begging to be blogged about, so here it is!

10 career tips from Karren Brady’s Strong Woman (in no particular order of importance):

1) Tap in to your inner motivation

Karren’s cites her motivation to her extraordinary success to date as her need for independence – “…to live a life where no one could ever tell me what to do.” What’s your motivation for success? Is it to be financially free? To live out your passions? Or simply to be the best you that you can be? Whatever it is, keeping it at the forefront of your mind will help you to achieve it.

2) Develop ambition 

As Karren says in her book, the word ambition is often tainted with negative connotations (especially when used to describe a woman). Don’t let this put you off – ambition, in its right context, can actually be a very good thing. Ambitious people, says Karren, are people who have “an inner pride…They don’t just accept their lot. They’re fighters and grafters and they claw their way out of often difficult circumstances.”

3) Choose to be great, not good 

“Good, I find, is always a barrier to being great,” says Karren. Being great means deciding to “forsake good and take risks” and to not settle for the way things are. Good people get by in life but great people enjoy greater success and often leave a more lasting legacy.

4) Learn to endure 

Karren’s childhood at a convent school instilled in her the ability to endure and “stick things out” to the end. Learning to endure, especially in hard times, builds resilience and sets you up for greatness.

5) Blow your own horn

 …Or in other words, learn to promote yourself because “nobody will champion you or your career if you don’t.” Instead of waiting for people to recognise your work and your great contribution to the organisation, Karren recommends a more straightforward and direct approach: “I never waited for someone to say, ‘You did a good job.’ I’d be saying to people, ‘Look at what I’ve done! Isn’t it great? Shouldn’t I head up the next project?’”

6) Make the most of your skills, whatever they are

This, says Karren, is the simple secret of success in any field.

7) Once you’re in, stand out 

 If you want to rise quickly up the ranks of your organisation, you might want to follow Karren’s example whilst working for Saatchi & Saatchi as an 18-year-old: “[I made sure] I looked the part, spoke the part, read every piece of material about the company, understood what every department within it did…I read about our clients, understood their businesses and made myself a valuable and indispensable member of the team.”

8) Be confident in who you are and what you can do 

Confidence is not the same as being cocky, says Karren, rather confidence, coupled with self-esteem, is a great way to make your mark in an organisation. Confidence and good self-esteem can be expressed in the way you dress, where you sit in meetings (are you up front or hiding in the back?), and in what you say – or don’t say - about yourself: “I learnt never to belittle my contributions, and to say thank you when people complimented me about my work. I didn’t say, ‘It’s nothing,’ because it wasn’t nothing. And if I didn’t value it, who would?

9) Don’t be overly emotional 

Karren is not advising being cold and harsh in your dealings with people, but to rein in the emotions and be as straight-talking and direct as possible: “It’s about being clear, precise and operationally succinct. Everyone should know in which direction they are going, who is doing what and why.”

10) Personality matters

Karren attributes having “the sort of personality that can open doors with certain types of people” as a key to her own success in business. If you’re not a natural extrovert and can’t relate to having this sort of personality, don’t worry – the key, explains Karren, is to play to your strengths by identifying the types of people (or situations) your own personality works with and making the most of networking opportunities in the right settings.

So there you have it – 10 career tips from a woman who knows a thing or two about climbing to the top and pushing past boundaries of achievements.

When I finish reading the other ten chapters of Strong Woman, I’ll be posting the review on my Pinterest ‘Books I’ve read this year (2013)’ board – feel free to check it out, follow and let me know if we’ve read the same book.


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photo credit: TaylorHerring via photopin cc