To Succeed at Work, Channel Your Inner Diva

by Shana Montesol Johnson

What do you need to perform, work and/or be at your best?

A few years ago, pop singer Jennifer Lopez made news for reportedly insisting that the hotel suites where she stayed while touring conform to the following demands: bedsheets must be Egyptian cotton with a thread count of at least 250, walls and furnishings must all be white, and the room temperature must be set at exactly 25.5 degrees Celsius.

J. Lo was ridiculed for being a demanding diva, and later denied she’d made such demands.  Whether the specifics are true or not, it’s apparently common for performers and even politicians to use a document called a “rider” to specify how hotel rooms must be outfitted to suit their needs.  When I hear these stories, my first reaction is to scoff at their demands – but on further reflection, I think it may show an awareness (hyper-awareness?) of what it takes for them to be at their best.

Which sparks a question: what do YOU require to do your best work?

I’m not recommending that you inform your boss that you will only write that report he requested if freshly baked croissants are delivered to your cubicle every morning.

What I am suggesting, though, is that you take some time to think about how your current work – and life – situation is setting you up to succeed…or not.  What does it takes for you to perform at your best?  Do you have these “rider” elements in your life?  If not, what can you do to create those conditions, or, if you alone cannot create them, work toward generating them?  By not being clear about what your “rider” includes, are you inadvertently keeping yourself from performing at your best?

I gave it a little thought.  Off the top of my head, here are some of the kinds of things that help me perform at my best on the job:

  • enough sleep
  • realistic timeframes for projects
  • work assignments that play to my strengths and that make a difference in people’s lives, even if it’s only in a small way
  • enough time alone
  • regular, meaningful interactions with people I care about
  • autonomy and flexibility in choosing my work hours and blending work with the rest of my life
  • the support, encouragement, and guidance of mentors I respect
  • a stable Internet and Skype connection for coaching calls
  • high-quality, trustworthy, and reliable childcare so that I can focus on my work without worrying about the welfare of my kids

I don’t ask for much, do I?  It’s not like I’m asking for a separate dressing room for my wigs or a pink podium and pink butterfly-shaped confetti.

In order to set yourself up for success, you need to know what you need to succeed.  A big piece of that is self-awareness: knowing yourself; being clear on your strengths, priorities, quirks; the ability to articulate what makes you miserable and what makes your heart sing.  This will help you to figure out how to get, create, and/or choose a situation that works best for you.

If you’re a sought-after pop star, you can simply put all your demands into a “rider” and a gaggle of concert promoters will jump to implement them.  For the rest of us, we have to find ways to make them happen.

Don’t wait for someone else – your boss, your organization, your colleagues – to make things work better for you.  It’s up to you to identify the changes you need, and work to put them in place.  Some will be under your control.  Others may fall under your sphere of influence, which is where you need to pull out your best advocacy, strategy, and problem-solving skills.

I’ve developed a downloadable worksheet that you can use to reflect on these questions, and hopefully, identify some concrete things you can do to set yourself up to succeed.  Go ahead – be a diva.


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