- Stay hungry - In almost all cases, when you’re a new, non-executive employee, people will respect and respond to an attitude of “I’m here to learn and contribute (and by the way, I’ll learn fast because I’m talented)” far more positively than an attitude of “I’m here to teach” or worse, “I’m here to get what I deserve.” You even see this in professional sports. A star athlete moves to a new team. Their new teammates, coaches, and fans embrace them when they project an attitude of “I want to learn the system here, see how I can make a contribution, and prove that I can deliver a lot for this team.” When they project an attitude of “I’m a proven star. Now watch and learn and try to keep up,” they lose support and suddenly a bad game, bad practice, or even a bad play can generate significant criticism because some observers want to see the “star” fail just because of his arrogant attitude. Stay hungry, and you will reap the rewards of your education far more quickly.
- Show it off without “showing off” - There isn’t much value in spending the time and money to get an MBA if you can’t use that knowledge to enhance your contribution to your employer. The issue is how you demonstrate that knowledge. Recently, another colleague of mine who’s a Director at a $1B+ software company described a direct report of hers by saying “In between constantly reminding us that he has a Business degree from Haas, he actually brings some great ideas to the table.” Of course, talking directly about business school is probably the clumsiest way to try to showcase your knowledge in the workplace, but using obvious “B-school vocabulary” or citing a case study will often invoke the same eye-rolling reaction from your peers. Imagine the example without the “In between constantly reminding us” qualifier. Her direct report would get the recognition and respect for her great ideas from her manager and peers without the distraction or annoyance. That’s the way to demonstrate that you got a great education from a great school.
- “Pick your spots” - Choose the right opportunities to demonstrate strategic thinking. One of the most useful things I’ve noticed in many of my MBA colleagues is that it becomes quite natural for them to approach challenges and opportunities in high-tech with a more strategic view. But it’s important to consider at what time and what level to raise strategic issues because it doesn’t always help you to come off as the “strategic thinker.” When a critical, mid-stream project that’s behind schedule needs to be completed and you’re in a meeting discussing ways to get it back on track, talking about how the company needs to re-think its market segmentation is inappropriate. You’ll likely be seen as an academic who lacks either the sense of urgency or the work ethic to jump in and help out. It’s also wise to keep your strategy recommendations at your manager’s level unless you’re specifically asked to participate in a higher level strategy project. For example, if you suggest how a certain major acquisition should have been made and wasn’t, without having been involved in the due diligence, you’ll make it look like you think you should be running the company, not that you’re thinking strategically.
For more information on leadership development, visit ExecCatalyst.