In my current version, I play the part of the seasoned veteran. Even though, and don’t tell my people this, I don’t really have it figured out either.
I’m the CEO. And, as many startups do, we carry a bench of 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and me. The 40-something. The adult in the room. I have arrived at that stage.
While this younger gang might have the advantage of youth on me, I have something on them too. And, oddly, it’s the same thing. Time. Theirs is in front of them, mine is in the rear view. I’ve had time to see things and bank experiences. I’ve seen things play out. In many situations, I can see a few moves ahead. It’s not that I’m any smarter than anyone. In fact, I think the younger generation is the smartest we’ve seen. It’s just that I’ve experienced these scenarios before.
I’ve been through three startups, all winners. And, in each of those companies, I’ve taken seriously my role to mentor those around me so they’re better equipped for their next thing.
Today, investing in your people on a human level has at times been replaced with foosball tables and office kegs, by casual Fridays and stocked snack shacks. But, as leaders, you should do more. You carry a greater burden.
I talk with my younger folks a lot. Ask them how they would handle certain situations. Assign them bigger things than they can probably handle. Let them fail. And catch them doing things right. We talk about strengths, weaknesses, and a development path. I try to be brutally honest with them, maybe even harsh.
Inevitably, some of our talks zero in on the mechanics of career ambition. Specifically, raises and promotions.
These young folks are ambitious. I’ll give them that. When prompted, I deliver the exact same talk every time. And here it is for you:
Here are my four keys to getting a promotion and a raise.
1. Dominate your current role.
And by “dominate,” I do not mean do well, meet expectations, or even over-perform. “Dominate” is a word all it’s own. Words matter. “Dominate” means over-perform to a level that’s far beyond simply over-performing. It means coming in early and staying late. It means taking on whatever is needed. It makes no difference where you’re starting. There are no unimportant roles in a startup. Are you starting at the bottom? Good. Dominate.
2. Volunteer to solve the biggest problem.
A typical startup has more things broken, or not built yet, than working. I cannot overstate how many things keep me up at night. There are so many things. People who stretch outside their comfort zone to understand my problems and jump in to fix them are coveted. Taking a single problem off my plate is more than a single win. It shows character.
3. Work yourself into a position of being underpaid.
No one is paid exactly what they’re worth. It’s such a moving target. So you’re either overpaid or underpaid. Which side of that equation do you want to be on? The truth is, if you dominate your role and take on the biggest problems, you’ll be underpaid. Good. A career goal of yours should be to provide more value than expected. That’s actually a good life goal.
4. Now, be patient.
When my people come to speak to me about raises, I’ll usually not-so-subtly change the subject to their development path. The younger people I work with occasionally have to be reminded of how much time they have in front of them in their careers. And the number-one priority early on should be to bank experiences and skills that will play a part in their becoming a better professional and a better leader — and that is it. That’s your early career scoreboard. I’ll often ask if they’re willing to grind away day after day when the real payoff may not be for another year, or five years, or more. Be patient. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Grinding in silence is more noticeable than you think.
Oddly, or maybe not so, if you focus on the developmental path, the paychecks and promotions tend to follow. In fact, that happens every time.
This list is supposed to be for the young crowd reading this column. And, hopefully it was worth it. If you follow the plan, your success is fail-proof. You can have my job one day.
But I really want leaders to get this too. You have a responsibility to the younger generation. You have more of an effect than you think. You can be firm. Just balance it with an inspiring message of where the finish line is. Somebody invested in you once. You have a debt. Pay it.
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