A lot of you are struggling with making sure you keep your jobs in this economic climate. I think the qualities for making sure you keep your job are closely related to the ones you need even if you want to get a promotion, much less keep your job. So I did a little research on the types of behaviors that keep you employed and possibly even get promoted.
First of all, constantly look around and see what else you can do. A lot of people have a sense of entitlement: "Well my job description is 'blankety-blank' so, you know, I'm not going to put more paper in the copier." When I first went through all of the qualities I'll mention here, I thought about all my peeps. Each of my peeps has a job description, but when push comes to shove, they each act like the company is theirs. So if there's no paper in the copier, well their company doesn't have paper in the copier so they put paper in. No one (including me) thinks they're above doing anything. I am notorious for cleaning up...they're always going "here she goes again". That's not in my job description; I am the host. Heck, we're all in this together and whatever needs to be done, we do it. That's a team effort. And people who have the team effort mentality do better with their bosses and do better with their co-workers.
Now everything I'm going to say presumes you're not working for a nutcase. We leave out the nutcases. If you're working for a nutcase, get another job. Nonetheless, 99.9% are working for reasonable people. If you behave as though you're part of the team, everybody will appreciate you, including the boss who will find you indispensable. "This is a person who will put the coffee on, as well as make the PowerPoint presentation for the CEO of this Fortune 500"...whatever. So that's really important.
Next? Be observant. Pay attention to the people who seem to be doing well with the company. I ask that question a lot when people have concerns about what's going on at work. "Well, who are the people who are doing very well? Who are the people who are liked? Who are the people seemingly getting ahead? Who are the people who have the eye of the boss? What is it they do? How do they behave? What do they contribute? What are their people skills? Communication skills? How do they get along with people?" So observe. Drop the competitiveness, drop the cattiness and just observe. What skills, what attitudes do the people doing well have that you could take?
In addition to being a team player (this may sound counterintuitive, but it's not) you have to find a way to stand out. Make yourself indispensable; be proactive. On my racing sailboat (and sometimes I've got 10 to 12 people aboard), we sort of noticed over the years the people who were proactive - who would look around and see if anything bad was going to happen. Look at all the lines, is anything crossed? How do all the shackles look? How does this look? How does that look? Where's the wind coming from? While being a member of a team, they're looking at everything. And, over the years, I've become adept at figuring out early on the people who are sort of lazy and just want to be on a boat as opposed to the people who really commit to the team by being aware and supporting each other, which is an important thing: Looking for problems before they happen. It's easier to avoid than to repair.
You make yourself indispensable by the positive attitude, by being a flexible team player but also looking around, coming up with ideas, and trying to make things better for everybody. You need to know how and when to have the right conversations. So, for example, you go to your boss, your manager, your supervisor and you say, "In 3 to 6 to 9 months what would you like to see me doing?" or "What do you imagine for me?" or "What could I work toward?" or you have a friendly conversation (not a threatening, demanding one) where you say, "What do you see? What could I do for you that would be better?" So that you're open to what a lot of people take as criticism without being sensitive. Use it as information to run with.
Bottom line, if you seem hell-bent on just getting a promotion, getting power, you're missing the bigger picture. You've got to focus in on every aspect of your being at work and relationships, because basically going to work is a relationship experience. You need to know how to get along with people. And the best way to get along with people is to be solicitous, non-competitive and supportive. Ask them for advice and their opinions so they feel important to you. It's a give-and-take on a very positive level -- it is not a family. It is NOT a family. Family has certain expectations and people get awfully emotional about that. But be very aware of showing respect, asking for their input, and offering them help instead of being competitive.
There are lots of practical things to consider. If you come up with something brilliant for the company they can use, that's great. But for the most part it's attitude, positive people skills, and support. A lot of people get into trouble at work when it all starts to get competitive. To the contrary, the best thing to do with someone who seems already to be in that mode, is from time to time, say to them, "You know, I was thinking about 'such and such'. What's your opinion on that?" They stop being competitive when they feel somewhat valued because being competitive is insecurity. So if you feed the insecurity by fighting, it'll go south. If you feed their insecurity by instead bolstering their sense they are important to somebody, that's going to work really well.