Substance trumps style in the long run. Here’s how to make the kind of impression that lasts.
Bosses spend the vast majority of their time helping other people succeed: employees, customers, vendors and suppliers… the list goes on and on.
Helping other people succeed is your job, but it’s also your job to focus on yourself, at least part of the time.
Why? Your success creates success for others–and success requires, at least in part, standing out from the crowd and being known for something.
Of course there are different ways you can stand out. For example, you can be like this guy.
Okay, maybe not.
There are better ways:
Be first, with a purpose.
Lots of business owners are the first to arrive each day. That’s great, but what do you do with that time? Organize your thoughts? Get a jump on your email?
Instead of taking care of your stuff, do something visibly worthwhile for the company. Take care of unresolved problems from the day before. Set things up so it’s easier for employees to hit the ground running when they arrive. Chip away at an ongoing project others are ignoring. Whatever you choose, do it consistently.
Don’t just be the one who turns on the lights–be the one who gets in early and gets things done. The example you set will quickly spread.
Be known for something specific.
Meeting standards, however lofty those standards may be, won’t help you stand out.
Go above the norm. Be the entrepreneur known for turning around struggling employees. Be the business owner who makes a few deliveries a week to personally check in with customers. Be the boss who consistently promotes from within. Be known as the person who responds quicker, or acts faster, or who always follows up first.
Pick a worthwhile mission and excel at that mission.
Create your own side project.
Excelling at an assigned project is expected. Excelling at a side project helps you stand out. The key is to take a risk with a project and make sure your company or customers don’t share that risk.
For example, years ago I decided to create a Web-based employee handbook my then-employer could put on the company Intranet. I worked on the project at home and a few managers liked it but our HR manager hated it… so it died an inglorious death. Bummer. I was disappointed but the company wasn’t “out” anything, and soon after I was selected for a high-visibility company-wide process improvement team because now I was “that guy.”
The same works for a business owner. Experiment with a new process or service with a particular customer in mind. The customer will appreciate how you tried, without being asked, to better meet their needs, and you’ll become “that guy.”
Put your muscle where your mouth is.
Lots of people take verbal stands. Fewer take a stand and put effort behind their opinions.
Say you think a project has gone off the rails; instead of simply showing everyone how smart you are by pointing out its flaws and revamping the timeline, jump in and help fix it.
It’s easy to criticize what’s wrong or to talk about what should be changed or could be improved. The people who stand out are the ones who help do something about it.
Show a little of your personal side.
Personal interests help other people to identify and remember you. That’s a huge advantage for a new business or a company competing in a crowded market.
Just make sure your personal interests don’t overshadow professional accomplishments. Being “the guy who ran a marathon” is fine, but being “the guy who is always training and traveling to marathons so we can never reach him when we need him” is not.
Let people know a little about you; a few personal details add color and depth to your professional image.
Work harder than everyone else.
Nothing–nothing–is a substitute for smart & hard work. Look around: How many of your competitors are working as smart & hard as they can? Not many. The best way to stand out is to try to out-work everyone else. It’s also the easiest, because you’ll be the only one trying.