Getting Paid: Smarts or Results?

One of the toughest lessons to learn during my first couple years in the business world was that nobody gave a damn about how great I did in school or how high my IQ was.

But when I finally came to terms with the fact that you’re paid for results, not smarts, the promotions, raises, and bonuses kicked into high gear.

I think the biggest weakness in our current education system is the set of expectations it gives students about their post-high-school or post-college life. Their GPA is their golden ticket. They’re given the impression that straight A’s will give them a free ride to a big paycheck for the rest of their lives.

But it’s just not true.

No company is looking for a genius to pat on the back. Companies look for profit.

Case in point: I went straight into the business world out of high school (a decision I am incredibly happy I made). At the end of high school my test scores put me in the very top percentile nationwide. So I knew that the working world would be a breeze.

I knew more than all my counterparts. I spoke and wrote better English, read graphs better, calculated budgets better–I was just smarter! I could sound impressive to any corporate leader and I could intimidate any team member. I understood how the business was supposed to work. Bottom line: I was sure I knew better. Better than my employees, better than my managers, better than the customers!

And where book smarts were concerned, I did. I could out-theorize any and everybody at my company. But guess what I couldn’t do: Get results. Real productivity was my downfall.

I wasn’t productive because all my brilliant theory made me such an idealist I refused to effectively use the system as long as it was broken (hint: it’s forever). I wasn’t productive because I was so distracted with the Why, What, and How, that I never balanced it out with the Do. I wasn’t productive because my education left me wanting to be recognized and rewarded by my company for being smart and good, not for growing their profit and getting results.

But a company’s bottom line is money. And if the high school drop-out with the tattoo gets more done for the company than I do, he gets paid more. If the company’s P&L looks better after his shift than after mine, he gets promoted. Not me.

At first this made me bitter. I felt like I was at a disadvantage because I had such deep care and understanding of business ideals. I was distracted with what wasn’t perfect while my less educated co-worker was happily using a flawed system to churn out numbers. Results.

After a couple years and a few good business books I accepted that the real world with a lot of money wasn’t made up of geniuses who insisted on doing everything their (brilliant) way. The money world is made up of people who figure out how to bring in more dollars.

In the real world, you’re paid for results. Period.

I started applying that to work. It meant I had to start doing a lot of uncomfortable things. Getting out of my comfort zone when I didn’t feel ready. Looking for sales in counterintuitive places. Collaborating with co-workers I used to think brought me down.

I learned to set exact, measurable goals and commit to figuring out whatever it took to get there. I learned to be a problem-solver, not a dreamer. I learned to innovate, not complain. I learned to be creative, not outsmart harsh reality.

What Your Teachers Don’t Tell You

Here’s the problem with the way we’re raising our kids and planning our education system: After school, your GPA just doesn’t matter.

Students are pushed incredibly hard to make good grades their top priority. They’re told the way to be confident about a happy and successful future is to study their way to the top.

But when they graduate and go in for their first interview, they suddenly have to deal with the fact that the recruiter is going to pick the mid-level student with more experience and workplace accomplishments. They finally get hired somewhere and find out that their manager doesn’t care how much theory they know, they just want to see numbers rising.

Of course there’s a balance. Having a good grasp of the theory and subjects like mathematics, economics, accounting, business, etc–that can certainly help if you approach things right.

But approaching things from the perspective that your 4.0 GPA translates to being an automatic top performer is a recipe for failure and frustration.

Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D. spent years researching, surveying, and interviewing America’s first-generation self-made millionaires. He used the data to write a few books, my personal favorite of which is The Millionaire Mind. In it, he dedicates an entire 50-page chapter to examining statistical correlations between now-millionaires’ school experiences and their later success. It’s a fascinating read, and it explains that not only does quality of traditional schooling correlate very little with success in the business world, but in fact many of the millionaires he interviewed said that their weak performance and sense of inferiority in school drove them to create their own success. Most said that their focus on social skills, creative activities, and a hard work ethic (which not all geniuses feel the need to develop in school) as opposed to homework and academics later gave them an edge in the business world.

“Millionaires also report,” Stanley writes, “that they were not A students in college. In fact, only about three in ten reported receiving a greater percentage of As than either Bs, Cs, Ds, or Fs. About 90 percent graduated from college. Overall, their GPA was 2.9–good but not outstanding.”

So sure, school is important. But it’s important for a variety of reasons, and the number one reason is definitely not that your top tier grades will guarantee you a top tier paycheck in the business world.

What education do you really need to thrive in the real world? What skills really need to be learned? Creativity. Thinking outside the box. Problem-solving. Developing vision and goals. Social skills. Personal motivation and work ethic. Networking. Leadership. Determination.

It is qualities like those that will write you a big paycheck. Not a high IQ.

My first job was at a restaurant. I was a brilliant student with big ideas and a lot of knowledge and strategy. And I worked with a single mom who spoke almost no English and had just moved up Columbia. I complained, worried, excused, and dreamed. She put an apron on and worked her ass off. I was frustrated with customers and co-workers. She made her customers and co-workers happy. I tried to get paid for being smart and educated. She got paid for real results.

Guess who got paid more.

Better Than Dogfighting

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln


In military aviation, a pilot who can boast five or more aerial victories is given the honorable title of “Flying Ace.” History’s top ace of all time was named Erich Hartmann, who won a shocking three hundred and fifty-two in-air battles. He survived more than fourteen hundred missions and was never wounded. Named “The Black Devil” by his enemies, Hartmann attributed his success to his mentor, a fighter pilot named Paule Rossman.

Paule Rossman was also a very successful ace. But unlike most aces, he couldn’t engage in dogfights. A dogfight is an intense aerial battle in which physical strength is a must. Rossman suffered from an arm injury that made dog-fighting impossible for him. So he had to find a way to compensate for his disadvantage.

Rossman started doing his homework. He was studying the battle, while others were gripping their controls, firing bullets, just praying for the first hit. Rossman refused to go into a confrontation unless he knew he was in position to win. When he attacked, he had analyzed the situation every which way. It was his focused studying that gave him his tremendous success.

The great Erich Hartmann learned his strategy from Rossman. They both made sure to go into each battle fully prepared. They didn’t rush into the middle of dogfights with guns blazing, hoping they would outpower, outshoot, and outluck their enemies. Instead they planned ahead. They studied their options, learned their enemies, and planned careful successes.

These two famous flying aces teach us something important. Success doesn’t come from running blindly into the fight. Success comes from preparing. Success comes from observing, studying, planning, strategizing. Success comes from learning.

Acting without learning is like hoping that brute force and blind courage alone will make you a flying ace.

President Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

Just like Hartmann, Lincoln understood one of the key principles of success: Brawn doesn’t win. Preparation does.

Scaring the New Guy

You can win or lose a great team member in a day.

First impressions, ambition, insecurity, judgement–there’s a whirlwind of variables inside the new guy’s head. Variables that none of us older teammates really wonder about anymore.

So we criticize each other, criticize our leadership, criticize our employees, criticize our systems, criticize our tools–to us, it’s no big deal. We’re just having fun and blowing off steam. But we’ve been here a while. Our criticisms come with a bigger perspective: After all, we’ve found a reason to stick around.

But the new guy hasn’t. The new guy doesn’t know what it feels like to be a part of your company for six months, a year, five years. All he knows is the chatter going on around him on his first day.

So be careful what you say around the new guy. Silly banter can turn into a make it or break it moment for an unseasoned pair of eyes and ears.

Before you criticize, argue, make fun, or roll your eyes about anyone or anything, ask yourself: “What would this say to the new guy?”

Have you ever been given a disappointing or misleading first impression on a new job?

The Real Secret to Selling

Over the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time selling products and services. And I think I’ve discovered the secret to selling.

The “trick” isn’t buying audio programs and training curricula.

It’s not making personal connections with your clients.

And it’s not doing your research beforehand.

Of course, all of those are excellent techniques and can make you a much better salesperson.

But the real secret to selling is much simpler:

Just do it.

I know that sounds pretty simplistic. And I’m sure you’re disappointed. But here’s why I say it: In the real world, where our true colors are shown, most salespeople just aren’t selling.

Even most ambitious salespeople aren’t usually selling. We salespeople are master procrastinators.

Whether it’s checking e-mail or the news, planning our work and schedules, talking with our sales teammates, researching our prospects, learning our products, it’s very likely we’re trying very hard to not make a sale.

In fact, it’s amazing how much time we invest in making ourselves better at sales–reading, practicing, getting advice and coaching–instead of actually selling. (Which is strange, because the best teacher is experience.)

Even once we have learned how to sell well, once we’ve had some success, and put up some good numbers, we’ll still look for excuses to do anything-but-selling.

Now please understand, I am as big a supporter as any of serious self-improvement in professional skills. I regularly take classes, read books, and use programs to work on my own skills.

And many sales positions require the effective salesperson to spend the majority of his time working on prospecting, preparation, and follow-up.

But when it comes down to it, the most important trick to selling is just taking the step between “getting ready” and actually-doing-it. Because that’s the step most salespeople hate taking.

Not only is it the most important, it’s also both the easiest step and the hardest step. And it is completely psychological.

Unlike professional training products, just-doing-it costs nothing. And since experience is the best teacher, you can be sure of its value. It is more rewarding than any other part of the process, and it’s earning you a paycheck.

Should be easy. Right? But it’s not. Ask a salesperson. There are lots of reasons salespeople spend the vast majority of their time not selling. But regardless of what those phobias are, if you’re a salesperson, deep down you probably want to beat them. Right?

Well here’s the secret: JUST DO IT.

Your numbers will increase. So will your confidence. And so will your skill.

That being said, I know how hard it is.

So here’s to you, to my courageous brothers and sisters in sales. Here’s to you who spend your life repetitively offering products to judgmental, unpredictable, and just plain crazy customers.

Today, make a sales call. And then make another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. Your fellow salespeople and I are rooting for you!

(Oh, and then go invest in a good book on sales strategies.)

The same is true with most areas of growth in our life. I love (and personally use) inspirational and strategic books, training materials, careful planning, and the like. But when it comes down to it, half the time we’re just stalling.

No matter how many smoothie makers and nutrition books you buy, you won’t lose a pound until you add action to planning, doing to wanting. If you want to get better at working out, do it more. If you want to get better at writing, do it more. If you want to get better at listening, do it more.

If you want to get better at anything: Just do it more!

How do you overcome procrastination due to laziness or nervousness?

7 Questions to Ask in an Interview

“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” – Jim Collins

In all my time as a manager, every employee I hired reaffirmed the same principle: You can teach skills and knowledge, but you can’t teach character.

Interviewing often consists primarily of questions about qualifications, experience, knowledge, professional skills, and the like. But I have not often seen a manager ask an interview question that requires any deep level of thinking and human engagement.

After a while I learned to stop asking the usual questions, because those are the questions people are expecting. Anyone can list 3 strengths they have. They are selling themselves. Typical questions will tell you very little about a person. Everyone knows how to answer “What are you passionate about?” or “How important is your work to you?”

If you really want to see what a person is made of, you have to ask unusual, thought-provoking questions. Questions they haven’t found on Google and prepared for. You have to ask questions that require them to tap deeper into their minds and show you what they’re truly made of.

Here are my 7 favorite questions to ask in an interview (try not to put them in a predictable order):

     1. Tell me about the biggest challenge in life you have had to overcome.

How competently they answer this question can tell you a lot about how self-aware they are, how much attention they pay to their own personal development. Hearing what they considered a challenge, how they went about beating it, and how they are better for it will give you insight into their character.

     2. What drives you personally? Why are you really here?

It seems like it should be the first question on every boss’s mind, but it’s amazing how infrequently it’s asked. A year down the road, after the honeymoon stage is over, it’s important to know what is driving the team member during the tough times. Are they internally or externally motivated? Do they love and believe in what they are doing? Are they personally invested?

     3. If I asked all of your former co-workers and managers, what would they tell me is the biggest thing you need to work on?

It’s a variation on the typical “list your weaknesses,” but this one goes a little deeper. It catches your interviewees off guard. Plus, you’ll get to see how good they are at stepping back and examining themselves from the view of others, and it may get you a more accurate, thoughtful answer. It’s interesting to hear how honest and self-aware people are when they answer this question.

     4. What do you really want to know about a company and environment you might join?

Generalizing the question (instead of asking “what do you want to know about us?“) puts people at ease. It’s easier for them to say “I need to know a team gets along” than “Does your team get along?” So it will give you the opportunity to address their actual concerns, and it’s also helpful to hear how much thought they put into their teams.

     5. What do you know about our company?

How much people have done their homework and learned about your team will tell you a lot about them. Do they really want to work with your specific team? Do they engage and invest in their causes? Do they plan ahead for their success?

     6. What have you been learning lately?

It’s absolutely essential to know that your potential team members are eager learners. You only want to work with people who value continuous self-improvement. I have rarely gotten a confident answer to this question, but the few people who gave the good answers turned out to be excellent additions to the team and very open to feedback.

     7. Are you sure this is the right fit for you? Are you sure you still want to be here?

Between the beginning and the end of the meeting, your interviewees’ minds may have changed drastically. They’ve learned a lot about the team, revealed a lot about themselves, and gotten to interact with their potential new boss. But they might feel committed–it’s tough to back out. So it’s important to be very honest and open with them. Let them know you care just as much about whether this will be good for them as you care about whether they will be good for you. If they’re not going to be truly excited and enthusiastic, it’s not a smart hire.

(Notice the questions are of a general nature. Where it comes to very specific qualifications and focuses of their job, the questions will likely be a lot more obvious and straight-forward.)

Those 7 questions helped me learn a lot about people before it was too late. They helped me find great team members and avoid wasting time and money on poor fits.

The bottom line, though, is this: If you ask typical interview questions you will hear rehearsed answers. You need to really get to know the person and whether they will be a good fit for you. You need to engage them at a very deep level. You need to know what makes them tick.

It might be helpful to try this: Don’t just “interview” them, talk with them.