When you're black, intelligence isn't enough: Carice Anderson's guide to thriving in the workplace

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Author: Carice Anderson. (Photographed by Kevin O'Reilly)
Author: Carice Anderson. (Photographed by Kevin O'Reilly)
  • Intelligence Isn’t Enough is the black professional’s guide to standing out and showing up at your best and as your most authentic self at work.
  • Having worked for over 17 years with top companies in South Africa and abroad, Carice Anderson, a professional development manager, coach and consultant, shares her insider knowledge while also shedding a light on the harsh realities of corporate environments.
  • Drawing on her years of experience and research, the author argues that many young Black professionals struggle early on in their careers as they lack the necessary soft skills to successfully navigate their work environments and reach their full potential. 

In her book, Intelligence Isn't Enough, Carice Anderson guides readers on how to survive and thrive in corporate spaces, how to take a more strategic approach to their careers, and how to understand themselves and others more deeply.

Additionally, the book provides useful tips on how young professionals can strengthen their workplace relationships, sharpen their communication skills, improve their personal brands and, ultimately, make an impact.

Intelligence Isn’t Enough is the Black professional’s guide to standing out and showing up at your best and as your most authentic self at work.

READ MORE: 'I declined a job offer after months of unemployment solely because they commented on my afro'   

Here, we share an extract from the book: 

Getting started in the corporate world 

So let’s start with the good news. You successfully completed university or a master’s programme and did well enough that you’ve just been hired as a full-time employee. You skillfully navigated an arduous multiple-round interview process and landed a wonderful role in an amazing company.

Getting a job is like qualifying to run a marathon. You have been admitted, your number has just been pinned to your chest but you still have to run the race. You have not done anything yet. The real work starts now.  

Here’s the bad news: from my experience, only 30 percent of your success can be attributed to your education and hard skills, which have been influenced and shaped by your intelligence quotient (IQ). You’ve probably spent the last 20 years focusing on these. The remaining 70 per cent of your success is based on your ability to understand and manage yourself and work well with others – qualities that most of you have probably never worked on. 

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Best-selling author and emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman takes this argument one step further. He believes that emotional intelligence accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the differentiating skills that contribute to success. Your efforts in school, university or college have been focused on mastering certain topics, and you’ve probably spent most of your academic career working as an individual contributor. You didn’t have to play nicely with the other kids in the class, and while you might have been on some challenging (read: horrific) group projects, you only had to spend a finite amount of time with your team-mates.

You may even have had the luxury of choosing your group. At work, you do not have that luxury. Although you might move from one group to another, you can neither control who you work with nor who your manager will be.

To put it bluntly: until you are moved to another team or work for another company, work is one endless group project. 

READ MORE: If you're up to it, here are 5 tips to reach your career goals in 2021 

The 70-20-10 guidelines for learning how to be an effective leader were developed by the Center for Creative Leadership after more than 30 years of research. They are especially useful for thinking through your career and performance at work. According to the guidelines, 10 percent of your learning comes from training, 20 percent from other people (such as mentors, coaches, sponsors and managers), while a whopping 70 percent comes from challenging on-the-job assignments and experiences.

If you’re fresh out of university or college and you’ve just started out on your career, your learning has come solely from classroom training. You haven’t had the opportunity to build relationships with the individuals you will learn from, nor have you had key job experiences and assignments. These two elements, which you lack at this point, will eventually make up the bulk of your learning, which you will need to be a leader in your workplace. 

Remember, work is not like school.

I know this may sound obvious, but it needs to be said. (I wish someone had said it to me when I first started working, or even ten years ago!)

Even though I consciously knew I was starting my career, the switch did not flip that I was now in a different environment with different rules and that my approach would also have to change. The system worked, and I worked it, so if it ain’t broke, why fix it? As usual, I resolved to put my head down, work hard and put in long hours. I would be disciplined. That was pretty much the extent of my plan.

Let’s spell out a few differences between work and university. In university, having a great relationship with a professor is not a requirement for getting good grades. I never built any relationships with my professors and I still graduated with honours in the top 25 percent of my class. You got the syllabus for the course.

The professor told you when the exams were scheduled (unless they got you with the sneaky pop quiz from time to time).You knew what percentage of your final grade was made up of the final exam versus other components of the class. You knew that if you attended lectures, took notes, studied sufficiently and performed well on the test and/or delivered a high-quality paper, you would get a good grade.

That was the formula. You knew that if you did your part, you would be successful. 

Well, I quickly learnt that that ain’t work. In the workplace, you get no credit for showing up. And tests don’t come at scheduled times - they come every day, some of them big, some of them small. You are graded and evaluated continuously. Sometimes it’s clear what you are being tested on, but sometimes it’s not. And unlike school, university or college, you can’t just drop your job like you would a class or lecture. Now you have financial obligations such as rent, car payments, food, insurance and utilities that you have to pay, and those bills keep coming every month.

In addition, depending on your manager or the company culture, you may or may not be told what the rules are, what success looks like or how to achieve it.  

READ MORE: I became depressed when my friend who was a reference on my CV lied about me to potential employers 

When you join a corporation, it will be up to you to figure out what questions you need to ask and who to build relationships with. So what will best equip you to build the most effective relationships?

What can you do to excel in those challenging job assignments and experiences that will constitute the bulk of your learning? And what do you need to know about your working environment for you to maximise those relationships and experiences? It stands to reason that some people maximise these relationships, experiences and assignments better than others.

What are the factors that make the difference?  '

intelligence isn't enough
Image supplied by Jonathan Ball Publishers 

Working in versus working on your career

Entrepreneurs often talk about the difference between working in their business and working on their business. Working in your business is about serving your customers and delivering whatever goods and/or services you sell.

Working on your business, however, is about taking a step back and thinking strategically about how you spend your time and resources. It entails questioning your strategy and asking yourself whether you are serving the right customers and building important relationships. 

Let’s use a cupcake company as an example. Working in your business is about buying the flour, eggs, sugar and other ingredients to make the cupcakes. It’s about making the cupcakes, delivering them and collecting the money. Working on your business is asking yourself whether you are selling the right mix of cupcakes to the right people at the right price. It’s about questioning whether your marketing efforts are reaching your ideal customers. 

READ MORE: 'Let yourself dream again' - Future Females’ Lauren Dallas on entrepreneurship during uncertain times 

As I reflected on these questions over the years, I realised that you can look at your career in the same way. Working in your career is about working hard and doing your job well every day, which is critical. Working on your career, however, is about thinking through the enablers – relationships, opportunities, feedback, coaching, personal branding – that are critical to your success and advancement at work.

It’s about examining whether you are spending your time on the most critical activities that will set you up to make an impact in your field.  

We all know that we must put in the time, but I want to encourage you to ask yourself: how am I spending my time? Am I clear about all the areas that are most important and am I spending enough time on each one? Am I sacrificing the important for the urgent? Am I saying ‘no’ to the wrong activities and ‘yes’ to the right activities? Am I forming the right relationships at the right levels at the right time?

The Pareto Principle says that 80 percent of your impact at work comes from 20 per cent of your efforts. Your job as a junior employee is to figure out what that 20 percent is. Most of us have spent more time working in our careers than working on our careers because we didn’t understand our working environments and what it takes to be successful in those spaces. There are many elements of our work environments that we cannot control.

Focusing on these reinforces a victim mindset and makes us feel powerless. However, focusing on what you can control is empowering and reinforces the idea that you do have significant opportunities to shape your experience.

About the author

Carice Anderson holds an MBA from Harvard University and has worked with and for top companies such as Deloitte, Google, the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation and Bain & Company. At McKinsey & Company, Carice managed a leadership development programme for Black professionals and she currently does executive coaching, consulting and facilitation for top firms. 

Intelligence Isn't Enough: A Black Professional's Guide to Thriving in the Workplace is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers and retails for R250 

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