How can ambitious graduates entering the corporate world quickly distinguish themselves as winners?
First of all, forget some of the most basic habits you learned in school. Once you are in the real world -- and it doesn't make any difference if you are 22 or 62, starting your first job or your fifth -- the way to look great and get ahead is to over-deliver. For years you've been taught the virtue of meeting specific expectations. And you've been trained to believe that an A-plus performance means fully answering every question the teacher asks. Those days are over.
To get an A-plus in business, you have to expand the organization's expectations of you and then exceed them, and you have to fully answer every question the "teachers" ask, plus a slew they didn't think of.
Your goal, in other words, should be to make your bosses smarter, your team more effective, and the whole company more competitive because of your energy, creativity, and insights. And you thought school was hard!
Don't panic. Just get in there and start thinking big. If your boss asks you for a report on the outlook for one of your company's products for the next year, you can be sure she already has a solid sense of the answer. So go beyond being the grunt assigned to confirm her hunch. Do the extra legwork and data-crunching to give her something that really expands her thinking -- an analysis, for instance, of how the entire industry might play out over the next three years. What new companies and products might emerge? What technologies could change the game?
In other words, give your boss shock and awe -- something compelling that she can report to her bosses. In time, those kinds of ideas will move the company forward, and move you upward.
But be careful. People who strive to overdeliver can swiftly self-destruct if their exciting suggestions are seen by others as unfettered braggadocio, not-so-subtle ladder scaling, or both. That's right. Personal ambition can backfire.
Now, we're not saying curb your enthusiasm. But the minute you wear career lust on your sleeve, you run the risk of alienating people, in particular your peers. They will soon come to doubt the motives of your hard work. They will see any comments you make about, say, how the team could operate better, as political jockeying. And they will eventually peg you as an unrestrained striver, and, in the long run, that's a label that all the A-plus performing in the world can't overcome. So by all means, overdeliver -- but keep your desire to distinguish yourself as a winner to yourself. You'll become one faster.
Jack Welch is Founder and Distinguished Professor at theJack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University. Through its executive education and Welch Way management training programs, the Jack Welch Management Institute provides students and organizations with the proven methodologies, immediately actionable practices, and respected credentials needed to win in the most demanding global business environments.
Suzy Welch is a best-selling author, popular television commentator, and noted business journalist. Her New York Times bestselling book, 10-10-10: A Life Transforming Idea, presents a powerful decision-making strategy for success at work and in parenting, love and friendship. Together with her husband Jack Welch, Suzy is also co-author of the #1 international bestseller Winning, and its companion volume, Winning: The Answers. Since 2005, they have written business columns for several publications, including Business Week magazine, Thomson Reuters digital platforms, Fortune magazine, and the New York Times syndicate.
A version of this column originally appeared in BusinessWeek Magazine.