How to become a leader

Hard work alone will get you nowhere

When you were a student, hard work got you everything. Hard work translated into superior grades and test scores, which led to top schools, and finally, potentially, to a good entry-level job in a respected company.
But what they don’t tell you is that as soon as you enter the global workforce, the rules turn upside down. Suddenly, hard work alone will get you nowhere but worker-bee status at menial wages. To succeed, you now need three things: Performance, Image, and Exposure (PIE).

  • Performance: What the company asks you to do, you need to deliver like the mailman, with stellar performance, dependably, and with integrity. Understand how your company makes money, and what factors are especially important to the careers of your superiors, and volunteer for extra work which helps achieve those goals. Your performance is the foundation and confirms your promotability.
  • Image: Your image includes all the messages you send when you walk into a room. This includes how you dress, how you speak, how you present yourself. But it’s more than how you look. Your image also encompasses your reputation, the message you send before you enter the room, whenever your name comes up in conversation. In other words, your image is determined not by you, but by other people. There’s often a gulf between how we think of ourselves and what others think of us. Bridging this gap and gaining self-awareness is likely the biggest challenge of our professional careers, and the single biggest thing we can do to be successful.
  • Exposure: Not only do you have to do great work, and present yourself well, but people need a way to get to know you, and that is through exposure. The mentors you develop, the networking events you attend, the way you help your peers to succeed. At every single interaction you have with the people at work and in your professional world, people are judging you, and forming their impressions of you and your promotability. We often focus on the big events – the major Board presentation, or the big CEO meeting – when in fact, it’s the millions of minor interactions you have with your colleagues that add up to determine whether you’ll succeed.

Now you may be saying to yourself –not fair! Why do I need to worry about all this rather than being recognized for my hard work? Because companies are not like schools. They do not simply grade everyone numerically on a giant spreadsheet.

Companies need lots of worker bees, but for those they promote into leadership roles, they need many more qualities. They need people who are visionary, empathetic, inspirational, and great leaders of people. Be conscious at all times of the “you” whom you are building. You’re not just making an argument for your promotion – you are in fact engaging in an act of self-creation, and your job is to become the type of leader the world needs today and tomorrow.

In future blog posts, I’ll show you how.

Comments in English and Chinese are welcome, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.