There are a variety of sayings most of us have heard throughout our careers when searching for professional advice. Phrases such as, “dress the part,” “chart your own path,” “adopt a growth mindset,” and their respective variations have become so common in corporate America’s lexicon that search results for any one of these bring back hundreds of thousands of articles, books, and presentations. And for good reason. Being prepared, working hard, and continuous learning are foundational and should not be overlooked. And none of these alone can replace the importance of providing impact for your company.
I have found what really sets up-and-coming professionals apart is the ability to center community in their
work. When we center community, we prioritize and contribute to an environment where clients, colleagues,
and all stakeholders feel like valued, empowered contributors. When we center community, professional
relationships are no longer a means to an end; the relationship is the end goal.
Centering community is more than a style of working; it is also a way to approach business problems. When presented with challenges and opportunities in business, a community-centered approach requires looking beyond your immediate goals. What is good for business and helps others achieve their objectives? How can you maximize business and community impact? We often think that we must have the “right” title, connection, or budget responsibility to give back. We have the opportunity to at least pass on advice, connect people, or invest time into a relationship at every professional level.
It is no secret that each professional path is as unique as the professional. There is no single formula for success. This is especially true as companies work to dismantle the systemic obstacles that far too often limit professional advancement for people with disabilities, women, and people of color. While I am proud of the consistent progress companies like Microsoft have made in increasing workforce representation across these groups and championing an inclusive workplace, we recognize that there is still a lot of work to be done. However, when we center community in our work, we can create a work environment where diverse perspectives and experiences not only add to the work environment, but also become sources of innovation and improve business outcomes.
When empowering others and cultivating professional community becomes the end goal of your work, it is natural that professional success follows. People want to work with and for others who recognize their value, prioritize collaboration, and help them achieve their goals. Working with community in mind can also contribute to a more sustainable career for you and your direct reports. Workforce studies reveal year after year the increasing importance of a greater sense of purpose in work for employees.
At its core, centering community embodies the idea that we can go further if we go together. There is no substitute for hard work, a growth mindset, and preparation, but taking the time to recognize the value in others and give back can make the difference in your career. I feel fortunate to work at Microsoft where the mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more provides the space to drive impact in business and in the communities that are important to me. Yet, centering community continues to be a practice I try to get better at each day for myself, my colleagues, and to feed back into Microsoft’s success. I challenge you to take the time to practice cultivating your own communities. I can promise you, the teams you work with, and your organization will be better off for it.