Being Exceptionally Exceptional

Recently at work we had a founders award to reward individuals that have made a “founders level contribution” to the company.  This award is not merely for top performers but for people who make such a great impact on the company that the company would not be the same without them.  These are people who perhaps prevented the company from failure and/or are instrumental in the overall success.  In a world of “rock-star developers” “ninjas” and “linchpins”, what does it take to be exceptionally exceptional?  I am going to be brutally honest with these points.  These points will both go over what it takes to be instrumental in a company and what it takes to have people recognize it.

  1. Going way beyond your role – Even if your role includes a lot of responsibilities, you need to go above and beyond your role.  Constantly fix and improve everything you can get your hands on.  Go out of your way to make clients happy and get new clients.
  2. Work many hours – I think the sad truth is you cannot work a general work day (8 hours 5 days a week?) and be exceptionally exceptional.  If you come in at 9 and leave at 5 every day on the dot, you are not going to be in this category.  I’m sorry.  There is just not enough hours in the day to do your role and to go above and beyond.  Maybe if you take some performance enhancing drugs you can do it, but I doubt that is a good option.
  3. Push hard upwards – I am not sure a better way to phrase this, but you need to push on your managers, their managers, and up the chain for more responsibilities and to improve what you see.  Not only will you get more visibility,  you will get placed on projects that are more important and have more visibility themselves. And the muckedy mucks need to know how hard you work and that you are hungry.
  4. Be lucky – No matter how hard you work, luck is very important.  Sometimes being at the right place at the right time allows you to be staffed on a highly important project.  Or maybe you happen to be chatting with someone and get a brilliant idea on how to improve the company.  Or you happen to have a college roommate that works at a company that can be an important client or partner.
  5. Be on the right team – This may be a controversial statement, but being on the right team increases your chances of being viewed as exceptional.  For example, if you work at social startup XYZ and you are in charge of the team building the now highly successful mobile app to compliment the web site, you have a much higher chance of being viewed as exceptional than if you worked on the back-end team.  On the back-end you would have to invent something like kafka to be viewed as exceptional.  Imagine what a person on the client client services or a developer evangelist team has to do to be viewed as having a massive impact on the company.  To be fair, a technical operations individual received the award at my company but that is because he has spent many a night holding together systems with his bare hands.
  6. Make allies and not enemies – For both the perception aspect and having access to great projects, you need to have a lot of allies.  I know playing politics sucks, but it definitely helps.  It is probably more important for the perception piece.
  7. Have a good manager – This definitely will help you get good projects.

There you have it, my thoughts on how to be “exceptionally exceptional.”  If your goal is to have a great and important impact on the company, these points might help you.  Though you have to wonder, is the juice worth the squeeze?

Good Luck,