You want to be successful, but the criteria for success changes with each leader. Not to worry. You can learn how to uncover each leader’s criteria with one simple method.

Learn How to Be Successful with Each and Every Leader

Be successful

Be successful

One of my graduate school professors passed on very practical tips for how to be successful in each course and with each instructor. Here’s what he told us.

Ask every professor for several samples of previous semesters’ papers that received the best, and the worst, grades. Study the selected papers to discover the common ingredients for success and those for failure. Include the success ingredients, and avoid the failing ones, in your papers for that professor. It worked.

My classmates and I discovered one professor gave the highest grades to students who included numerous references to his published articles. Easy-peasy. Of course the substance of the paper mattered, as did the writing quality, but references could bump your grade from a B to an A.

You can apply this same method to leaders you work for. Leaders can also apply this method to find out if they’re granting “success” to people for the right, or wrong, behaviors. Ask leaders to tell a few stories that exemplify their best, and worst, employees from the recent past. Stories are best, because they reflect what we really do versus our ideas about ourselves.

Don’t Ask This Question

Don’t ask professors, or leaders, to name their success criteria. They’ll tell you what they think they know, but it may not be what’s true. They’re not lying. The professor who gave higher grades when students referenced him more frequently, probably wasn’t aware of this pattern. Why? Approximately 98% of our thoughts sit below our conscious awareness. Leaders, and professors, can tell you only about the remaining 2% of which they’re aware.

If you’re inclined to follow lists, such as the 10 things successful employees do differently, check here. But I strongly recommend you customize these lists by using the method described in this post to uncover each leader’s success criteria.

Choose Your Leader

You can use this method during interviews to help uncover whether this is a leader you want to work for. If you’re in the same job with a new leader, you can find out whether it’s time to look for something different. There may be reasons why changing roles isn’t reasonable or a good idea at this time. But you can adjust your expectations and develop coping strategies.

Helpful Tip for Leaders

If you want to know to what degree the behaviors you’re rewarding match the behaviors you want to reward, modify the formula. Tell current employees stories about successful employees and unsuccessful employees, from the past. Ask people to identify the common factors for each group - successful versus unsuccessful. Are you choosing behaviors that support the organization’s goals, or those that don’t?


Anne Perschel
Anne Perschel
When she is not consulting; coaching; reading and writing about leadership; or enjoying her work in other ways; Anne can be found:

Listening to ocean waves receding over stones.
Enjoying the spontaneous expressions of young children who haven’t yet learned to hide their emotions.
Taking in the scent of freesias, lilacs or salt water.
Enjoying the great, or not so great, outdoors and all variations of nature’s gifts.
At the gym.

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Simple Method to Be Successful with Your Leader