How Do I Stand Out?

In a recent orientation with a few of our Senior Leaders, one intern on his first day asked a question that I’m certain we all want to know, “How do I stand out?” The response was typical of a leader who like most of us, hasn’t fully contemplated what this means and can’t quite put a finger on how to do it. We generally go with our gut instinct or feel, and we know a stand out when we see it. So, his response included the typical, garden-variety advice:

“Do excellent work, be a team player, engage in the business, put in your time, learn everything you can and ask for more work.”

That is really good advice but isn’t that more of a reminder of the basic expectations that the intern was hired for? If we are really honest with ourselves, this is what is called “table stakes” and will land you solidly in the meaty part of the performance distribution curve. With luck and maybe a little extra, it might get you to the upper middle end of the curve. You can make a good living there but let’s assume for a minute that you are reading this because you want to be on the tail end, the top 5-10% and be the one that stands out from the rest.

To be considered leading the way, extraordinary, exceptional and you want to be who no one else is then you have to do what no one else does. Makes sense, right? After all, doesn’t everyone get hired to do excellent work, be a team player, engage in the business, learn what you can and put in your time? That gets you a paycheck, but it doesn’t advance your goals and dreams. There has to be something more, something else that makes a person stand out.

Think about the shows American Idol, America’s Top Talent, The Voice or any other competition show. Your career and your life are a competition every day and there are a lot of talented people competing for the things that you want. Have you ever thought about why one contestant gets the golden buzzer, gets a standing ovation from the judges or gets moved on to the next round? Like an interview, a key project or your day-to-day performance, there are a few key ideas that make someone memorable and appear to be better than the rest…

  1. Their talent is similar to others, but they worked longer, harder and smarter than the rest in private and as a result, they seem extraordinarily better than the rest in public
  2. They have a unique value proposition or a talent that others don’t possess. Even better, they combine talents in ways that others can’t or don’t (like the ventriloquist with the inspiring singing voice)
  3. They stay in their own swim lanes, don’t try to be someone that they are not, and they embrace and leverage what makes them special
  4. They are courageous, take appropriate risks and are willing to do what others won’t or what others fear doing
  5. They have a look and a presence, and they project an image that others can relate to, want to be like or are inspired by
  6. They have a clear and compelling vision of what they want, why they want it and how what they are doing in the moment helps get them there (i.e., they don’t just do something but instead, they are pulled by a compelling reason why they do it and that fire burns inside and moves them to do what they do at the highest level)
  7. They do something completely unexpected. Their exterior cover gives a preconceived notion of what they will do or what they are capable of doing but then their interior work of art wows the audience with something completely different and amazing
  8. When the challenge gets more difficult, they are always able to rise a little higher to the occasion and their bad days are better than the other person’s good days
  9. They are flexible, always willing to change to get better and know what is needed in that particular moment to be successful and stand apart from the competition
  10. More importantly than anything else, they connect deeply with the audience, they have a story that inspires others and then they do something that moves people’s emotions

The last point is worth repeating because it’s the secret sauce to standing out. As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said and they will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” So, if you want to stand out in life and in your career, you want to get the promotion, you want to get that job or you want to date that person, remember that the key is always the “experience of you” and how you make them feel. Go into each situation knowing the answer to three questions . . . what do I want them to think, what do I want them to do and how do I want them to feel. Do that and you will stand out, be memorable and achieve the goals you want to achieve.

Your challenge is to consider these ideas and implement as many as possible in your day-to-day job and life. Do these in each and every situation and I promise you, the sky isn’t the limit. You will… Rise. Shine. Impact.