Differentiating Yourself: A Key to Success

By Pepper de Callier

Are you treated like royalty by your current employer?  Do you get at least two or three requests a week from people asking you to consider joining a new company offering you the possibility of expanded responsibilities, a brighter future and increased income? 

You’re not?  You don’t?  Then read on.

The dream of every executive or executive-to-be is to be in demand—to be in a position where their current employer is doing everything to keep them happy and the phone keeps ringing with offers to go elsewhere. The numbers vary, but I would say, based on my experience, that less than five per cent of the workforce will ever know this feeling on a sustained basis.

Why?  Because they don’t know how to differentiate themselves in a competitive marketplace.  I’m going to give you five things to focus on that will differentiate you from others and enhance your chances of becoming part of this select group.


  1. First of all, execute the duties of your current position flawlessly.  This is the key element, the foundation, of all that follows and it sets the tone of who you are.  Attention to this element tells those around you that you are dependable and someone who can be trusted to get the job done.  With this as your foundation the following four points become icing-on-the-cake.  Without this, much of what follows will be viewed as a distraction by your employer.  
  2. Demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement and growth. This is an immutable fact of life in a global economy: If you are standing still you are actually moving backwards.  This is where you can demonstrate your intellectual curiosity by doing things like attending lectures, seminars and classes, reading trade publications—expanding your field of knowledge.  Then what happens is you become the go-to person for up-to-date information.  You become known for your dedication to growth.  You may be asked to comment on something at the next staff meeting or you may write an article for the company newsletter or a trade journal.  This is also the first step in becoming a mentor to someone.  Your star begins its ascent.   
  3.  Be a good follower.  Observers of talent (read: those who decide your future) know that the key to assuming increased responsibilities and growing into a leader is first to be a good follower.  Why?  Because good followers are good listeners, they have discipline, and most importantly they are team oriented.  Don’t confuse what I’m saying with being servile, because good followers are anything but that.  They know what needs to get done, they accept the challenge, they know their place and then they execute the task at hand.  These are the folks who understand the realities of leadership and the value of a good team. 
  4. Get involved!  There are many worthwhile organizations that can use bright, talented people to help them accomplish worthy goals.  In addition, there are organizations that focus primarily on business oriented issues such as the American Chamber of Commerce. When you volunteer for organizations like this—and really contribute something—your star begins to rise further.  Your participation reflects well on your current employer, and this is excellent exposure to other professionals who might be helpful to your career path.  I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the positive effects on someone’s life, career, and network by getting involved.  This is where the phrase “What goes around, comes around” plays out in spades.
  5. Ego control.  Without this one, you can forget the other four.  There is no one as sought after in business as someone of talent, confidence, intelligence and humility—these are the characteristics of true leadership.  History is absolutely littered with the stories of talented, intelligent people who ended up on the outside looking in because of hubris.  Simply stated, nothing opens more doors than humility and nothing closes more than ego.


I encourage people to view their lives and careers as assets and to view themselves as the managers of those assets.  Any asset manager worth his or her salt knows that in order for assets to increase in value they must be deployed, or invested, wisely and monitored.  Is it hard work at times? You bet it is.  Is it worth the effort?  Just ask any successful professional and I think they’ll agree that it is.

I’ll leave you with something to reflect upon.  Are you managing your assets in a way that differentiates you and will be a source of pride years from now when you and those around you look back on your life and career?  

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

*These are reprints from Pepper de Callier‘s newspaper column in Hospodarske noviny.

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