by Joe Calloway

How to Be the Best

Apr 24, 20087 mins
CareersCIOIT Leadership

Attitude is key to being a top performer in any job, and these six tips will help you excel in your career and bring value to your employer.

What do top-performing individuals have in common? What are the factors that drive exceptional performance? What are the personal strategies and actions that create and sustain success? In one word: Attitude.

It’s not rocket science. Attitude inspires strategies that drive daily actions that create success. It’s not motivational mumbo jumbo. It’s quite simply about the choices that a person makes that ultimately create his reality. (Also read My Keys to Career Success: Former Gillette CEO’s Advice for Leaders and It Worked For Me: Career Advice from Top CIOs.)

“Showing off” isn’t about bragging or arrogance. Showing off at work means bringing your best to any situation. It’s about being focused and working with the intention of creating results that benefit the stakeholders in any given situation. Showing off means creating value through accomplishment; these six tips will help you.

1. Be About Results

In Texas, if you can’t deliver results, they say you’re “all hat and no cattle.” Big ideas are a dime a dozen. An employer will trade 10 thinkers for one really great doer. Being known as the person who gets things done is one of the ultimate career turbo-chargers. When I ask managers and executives to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, the value of an employee who takes action and gets things done, they invariably say “10.”

Along with results, be consistent. Consistency of performance is not only the great brand builder, it’s the great career builder. The gold standard in business is to be habitually dependable. There is simply no substitute for being someone whose performance can be counted on without question.

Many a career has been killed by stupid promises. Never, ever, ever overpromise. As tempting as it may be to tell an angry customer or a frustrated coworker or an impatient boss that you’ll get them what they want on time—if you know you can’t do it—don’t promise it. It’s much easier to defend not being able to do something than it is to promise and then not deliver. Know what results you can deliver and then deliver them consistently.

2. Be Willing to Risk

Casey Stengel once said, “They say you can’t do it but that doesn’t always work.” He’s right. Here’s another blinding flash of the obvious: 100 percent of the things you don’t try won’t happen. The lesson is this: Take a chance. All things come to he who waits, but it comes a lot faster to he who goes out and gets it.

If you claim to be an innovator, then, by definition, you are a risk taker. Innovation means you go first. Innovation means that you will try ideas before you know that they’re going to work. That’s the very nature of innovation. If you wait until success is certain, then you’re too late.

Mark Twain once said, “I knew a man who picked a cat up by the tail. He learned 40 percent more about cats than the man who didn’t.” Sometimes we have to pick the cat up by the tail. You may get scratched up, but you’ll gain information that will set you on the right path to success.

3. Relentless Improvement

Tiger Woods is the best golfer in the world. Not one of the best—the best. Tiger Woods has a coach. Inside every top performer is a better performer waiting to get out. Tiger Woods wants to be a better golfer. There’s a clue in that for all of us.

Here’s a basic rule for all employees: If you’re as good as you’re going to be—you can’t work here. Every company gives lip service to the idea of constant improvement and will agree that to stay competitive it must be better tomorrow than it is today. But what steps did you take today that will assure that you’ll be better tomorrow? Is “being better tomorrow” just a slogan? For top-performing organizations and individuals, relentless improvement is part of what they do every day.

4. Get Back Inside the Box

Everyone talks about thinking outside the box. Here’s another approach—get back inside the box and get better at what you’re already doing. If you can significantly improve on what you are already doing—or what your company is already doing—it might beat the pants off thinking outside the box. Practice looking around at what’s going on and saying, “Hmmmmmm…how can we do that better?”

Sometimes our greatest returns are realized when we invest in improving on our customers’ (be they internal or external) basic expectations. If you own a hamburger stand, rather than pursue outside-the-box innovations like adding tanning beds to your business or inventing a chocolate-flavored hamburger, you might do well to simply be better at serving the hamburgers while they’re still hot. Get back inside the box and get better at the basics.

5. What Have You Done For Me Next? Speed Wins.

The big question in business used to be, What have you done for me lately? Today we’re not so interested in what happened “lately” anymore. Today we’re interested in what happens next. We have truly become an “I want it yesterday” society and we have no patience for what we judge to be unnecessary waiting. If you make me wait, you lose.

So you’ll get back to me tomorrow? Great. That gives me lots of time to find somebody else to do business with, because you’re fired. Believe it or not, I still run into people who take great chest-swelling pride in their policy of returning calls within 24 hours. Wake up and smell the millennium, folks. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th. While you’re looking at your calendar to find a time to get back to your customers, they’re looking at their watches.

6. Whatever Happens Is Normal

Here’s a test: What’s going to happen next? As Mark Twain said, “I was gratified to be able to answer promptly. I said I don’t know.” Good answer. If you want to knock the blocks out from under someone’s sense of well-being, just throw a little uncertainty at him. We hate not knowing what’s going to happen next. Well, guess what? You don’t know what’s going to happen next. No one does. That information is not available. The question is, can you be OK with that? This is the key to moving forward versus being frozen with uncertainty. We have to be able to embrace the unknown.

It used to be that the way to succeed was to make the right choice. To succeed today means making the right choice, and then quickly making the next right choice. Regardless of what’s going on in your world right now, get ready to switch gears. You may think you understand the situation, but the situation just changed. If you can’t perform under those circumstances, then you’ve got no place to go. In today’s world, if you don’t like the unknown, you’re a fish that doesn’t like water.

What’s the difference between the person who easily and gracefully handles the unexpected and the person who goes ballistic over the unexpected? It’s The Normal Factor. The person who handles the unexpected has accepted that whatever happens is normal.

Top performers accept that stuff happens. You must always factor in that, however carefully you plan your work and work your plan, the unexpected will inevitably rear its ugly head and throw a wrench into your carefully constructed scenario. The first step in creating opportunity from change is to always expect change. Whatever happens may not be what you wanted, but it truly is normal. Respond accordingly.

Joe Calloway is a branding consultant and author of Work Like You’re Showing Off, Becoming A Category Of One and Indispensable: How To Become The Company Your Customers Can’t Live Without. He is a guest lecturer with the Center for Professional Development at Belmont University.

Check out the CIO Careers Resourcepage.