Published June 25, 2013
It seems that everyone wants to be an entrepreneur these days. Everyone wants to be the boss and run their own show. I can certainly understand the motivation. The idea of doing your own thing, of ruling your own destiny, is certainly an attractive one. Besides, the job market sucks.
That's why there's a nearly insatiable demand for start-up and leadership advice.
But here's the thing. The vast majority of you are putting the cart before the horse. The characteristics that will distinguish you and your career are developed, not when you're the boss, but when you're an employee.
You see, all the accomplished entrepreneurs and business leaders I know built their success on a solid foundation. What starts with your parents and teachers, continues with your managers and mentors. Maybe you'll become the manager, the teacher, the successful leader. But only if you were a great employee first.
Here's what it takes:
You manage your responsibilities, not your personal brand. Look, I know personal branding is a big deal these days, so let me be very clear about this. If you're great at what you do, your personal brand will take care of itself. It's the same with great products. The customer experience speaks for itself. Likewise, business isn't about you, it's about what you can accomplish. That's your brand.
You tell the cold, hard truth. And you do it for no other reason than because it's the right thing to do and you care about the company and its business. You don't worry about the consequences. Contrary to popular belief, accomplished leaders and executives know better than to trust yes-men. I've always valued people who say what's on their minds and I myself have never sugarcoated anything. CEOs truly value that, and my reputation stands on it to this day.
You always find a way to meet your commitments and get the job done. If you're motivated to move mountains to meet your organization's objectives and driven to do whatever it takes to satisfy a customer, then you're bound to be a winner in the business world. Those attributes are valued above all others.
You don't interview particularly well. Half the articles on business sites are about interviewing. Granted, if you can't get past the interview, you won't get the job. But on-the-job performance is really all that matters to your career and your company's success. I've always looked for smart, motivated people who could do the job. And I didn't need a bunch of bizarre interview questions to make that determination. Interviewing really isn't rocket science.
You seek achievement, not power or authority. You want to go places, but on your own merits, not by bullying or pushing people around. You want to make good money, but by contributing to the growth and success of the business, not because you feel entitled to it in some way. You don't want things handed to you; you want to be challenged. That's what drives great entrepreneurs, gets them up in the morning, and keeps them working long hours.
You ask "How high?" People always sarcastically ask, "If he tells you to jump, do you say, 'How high?'" While I've never been accused of being a pushover, I've always believed in having a customer service attitude. The popular term these days is "servant leadership." Same thing. I didn't get to where I am today by asking people what they can do for me, but by asking what I can do for them. Funny how well that's worked out over the long haul.
You don't whine--ever. A lot of people seem to think that companies should exist to serve their needs. That's not the way it is and it's definitely not how it should be. I know that's not a popular viewpoint, but it's the truth, nevertheless. And you know what? Good companies and managers have known for decades how to engage, empower, challenge, and motivate employees without indulging whiny, entitlement behavior.
So, before you set your sites on running your own show, first try to be a great employee. Everything else will fall into place. It may not be popular, but for just about all of you, it is the way to go. I guarantee it.
This column originally appeared on Inc.com.