As Don’t Matter In Business School, But They Do In A Startup

ExplainingWith grade non-disclosure in business school, getting an “A” often doesn’t matter very much. But if you want to work at a startup, these three “A”s do. It’s what differentiates the bad from the good, and the good from the great:

1. Accountability.

Have high standards. For yourself and for others. On the hook to get something done? Be accountable for doing it and doing it well. If it goes well, let others lead the praise, not you. If it goes poorly, be the first to say so. If you do this well, people will find you reliable. And reliability is what will earn you more responsibility as well as all the good things that come along with it (e.g., impact, pay, etc.).

  • What it looks like:

o    Saying you’ll deliver something within a specific time frame, and doing it. Consistently. Over time.

o    If a specific deliverable falls short or a deadline is missed, saying something to the effect of “Totally my fault. No excuse. Here’s what I have done already (or, will be doing) to fill the gap….” Even better if you’re the one to raise the issue before anyone else does (or even notices).

  • What it does not look like:

o    “Well, I didn’t do it because I thought that….”

o    Answering “What’s been done so far?” with a non-direct response or half-truths or round-about stories.

If you do this well, people will find you reliable. If you do this poorly, people will write you off.

2. Attitude.

You might be the best thing since sliced bread, but if you don’t have a positive “can-do” attitude towards your work or towards others, then you might as well go home (and stay there). There’s a lot of energy at a startup, given the aggressive goals and intense work ethic. It’s a charged environment. The best arbiter of all that energy is a good attitude. It’s what allows us to push the business forward in productive and tangible ways. A good attitude is also a giving attitude – giving of your time and support and knowledge – helping without being asked. There is little room for entitlement or ego.

  • What it looks like:

o    Saying you’re going to stay late on Friday night or come in on Saturday – without even being asked – because you know your teammate needs help and you have something of value to add.

o    Running out to get extra printing paper 10 minutes before a big meeting – without even being asked – to ensure there are enough decks for visitors, even though you have a graduate degree, are sharp as a tack, and “being somebody’s gopher” wasn’t in your job description.

  • What it does not look like:

o    Putting on a sour face or ornery tone when asked to do something.

o    Knowing that there’s a lot to do and still not raising your hand to help.

Attitude is the most under-rated of the three “A”s. It goes a long way.

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