The Quickest Way to Advance Your Career

Last Friday, I had the privilege of hosting the Chick-fil-a Leadercast, along with my friend, Tripp Crosby. All the speakers were outstanding. But something Jack Welch said really stood out to me.

The Quickest Way to Advance Your Career

Photo courtesy of ©Getty Images/Thomas Lohnes

Henry Cloud, who interviewed Jack, asked, “What’s the secret to success?”

Without hesitation, he blurted, “Find out what your boss wants and then over-deliver.”

Simple, but spot-on.

In my book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, I define wow as what happens when you deliver more than your customer expects. In today’s competitive environment, you must create wow to succeed.

The same is true in your career. This is what Jack was saying. If you want to turbo-charge your career and advance more rapidly, you must consistently over-deliver.

Delivering on what your boss expects will give you job security (maybe), but it won’t get you noticed. And if you don’t get noticed, you won’t get promoted. It’s as simple as that. You have to stand-out.

When I think back over my career and consider the hundreds of people who worked for me, the ones I remember are those who consistently over-delivered. They made an indelible impression on my psyche.

This isn’t a difficult concept to grasp. Yet, it’s surprising that more people aren’t intentional about using it as a fundamental career strategy.

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. Or the most creative. Or even the hardest working. All you have to do is be committed to exceeding the boss’s expectations.

Here are some suggestions for harnessing the power of over-delivering to turbo-charge your career and give you an edge over everyone else:

  1. Make the decision to over-deliver. Few good things happen by accident. You have to decide you are going to do something differently—or do it at a different level. Just making this decision will set things in motion. It’s amazing how many aren’t willing to do this. They are content to do just enough to get by.

  2. Get clear on your boss’s (or client’s) expectations. It’s really not about you—not if you are going to succeed. You have to be committed to making your boss successful. What does he expect from you? This is worth considering overall and on the front-end of each initiative. Start by asking, “What do you expect from me?” His response sets the bar.

  3. Identify specific ways you can exceed them. This is where the fun begins. List your boss’s (or client’s) expectations in one column of a sheet of paper or on a spreadsheet. Now, in another column, list what you could do to exceed those expectations. How can you make his jaw drop or at least make him smile with delight? Use your creativity to create a wow experience.

  4. Make wow your new standard. Every time you exceed your boss’s expectations, you create a branding impression. You want to develop a reputation for consistently over-delivering. You want to be the first person your boss thinks of when considering a new position or important project. That’s the secret to getting ahead.

Of course, the problem with exceeding expectations is that your performance quickly becomes the new standard. That’s why you have to be committed to never-ending improvement. Every new position, every new project is an opportunity to grow and realize your own potential.

Question: Do you have a reputation of over-delivering with your boss or clients? What would it take to get there? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Holly Gordon

    I believe over-delivering was how I was promoted to “Business Unit Leader” (read Manufacturing Department Manager) …over production, quality, engineers, in-directly the line workers, maintenance, etc at age 27. I started in Engineering and was the youngest salaried person in the plant.

    • John Tiller

      Congrats, Holly! That’s a great example.

  • John Fritsche

    My constant need to over-deliver has been great in every job I have done but it takes a lot of time. I have seen the greatest return for my time with school. I put in the time to over-deliver and I am rewarded with not only perfect grades but a true comprehension of the material. I am changing careers right now so my Wow will no longer go unnoticed.

    • Joe Lalonde

      John, that is awesome that you’re seeing the results from over-delivering. They sure can help propel you in the proper direction. It will also help you advance as you progress in your career. Keep it up!

  • Jeremy McCommons

    This is great advice! As a business owner I am my own boss, but I recognize that my clients and patrons are the ones I must over-deliver to which can be a bit more difficult as I now have lots of bosses with varying expectations. I think one of the best ways to over-deliver without moving into the territory of trying to please everyone is staying true to and over-delivering on your company’s vision and standards. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  • Paul Hunt

    When I was working, I tried to find out what my customer needed preferably something that no one else was delivering. After clarifying the need, I delivered it.

  • JPhillipC

    This is a very high value article. Two recommendations really hit home to me. The first was deciding to ‘overdeliver’. So simple, but of course! In my career and life, when I have decided to and committed to over-delivering, I always did. The other point, one where I haven’t done so good a job at, is getting clarity on what my ‘boss’ wants. Sometimes, (like any customer) they don’t know. Part of the challenge is helping them clarify what it is then exceeding it!

  • Pingback: Over-Deliver: The Key to Career Advancement | Shane Vander Hart

  • archiwriter

    What do you do if you are not able to exceed your bosses expectations? I simply don’t have the physical and mental stamina to work in my intense work environment for 15 hours a day and be on point with everything i do and say. But the job looks good on my resume.

    • John Tiller

      To answer your question, I would consider asking your boss, “What are his/her expectations of you?”

      If the expectations conflict with each other (i.e. work intensely 15 hours/day AND be on point with everything you do and say), then ask for clarification of priorities … Is it more important to be on the clock 15 hours/day or is it more important to be on point all the time?

      There are multiple studies that prove that shorter work days = more productivity. If the boss doesn’t agree, maybe more frequent breaks to re-charge are in order.

      If you find that the expectations are truly unreasonable, it may be time to start looking for a better workplace. :)

  • Chad Vanags

    I do have a reputation for over-delivering and I’m proud of it. But how do you know when you’re over-delivery deserves a promotion or financial reward? More importantly, what happens when you know you deserve the promotion or financial reward but the “boss” won’t give it, even after the proper conversations and review? How do you handle that?

  • Sumit


    My question goes like this that :Certainly when Boss is demanding (Roaring Tiger), one has to surpass the limits as Boss may like to see beyond sky also and thus employee need to perform like that but what could be the position wherein Boss himself is having a conservative approach towards work (Dumb Puppet) i.e. Roaring Tigers vs Dumb Puppet.

    Fortunately, I have till now experienced all Roaring Tigers and above phenomenon has exactly worked for me quite well.

    But in case of other scenario of Dumb Puppet, I am looking forward for your views or comments

  • Don

    Candidly, I’d rather not find out what my boss wants and over deliver.

    I’d rather come to a meeting of the minds where we share the same vision and passion for the mission. I do really deeply want to see my boss succeed (it’s deeply inbred in me, perhaps through upbringing). At the same time, however, I’m an independent individual (we all are) and the vision and mission needs to really be mine–I need to really buy into it. From there, guidance and leadership from a respected leader makes very good sense to me.

    If it comes down to it, I’m there to serve, and if the “boss” wants Goal A and I really feel we should pursue Goal B, well if they have heard me and understand but still go with A, then A it is–with a good will!

    But a little of that goes a long ways before burnout sets in, and with it poor performance.

    If a boss pretty much wants me to “work for her/him” I cannot do that. But “find out what you boss wants and over deliver” in its pure form requires that mentality of “I’m working for them” not on a team with them.

    In contrast, I try to ask the team I’m leading “how can I help you succeed?” I’m hardly perfect at it, but it is our top value. Everyone on our team chose to work there because the believe in our vision, and our mission and our values. They really do feel that the values etc. are THEIR values. From there, I find myself frequently guiding and helping them clarify and accomplish THEIR goals, because they are born out of our shared vision.

    I would be pretty repulsed and actually sad if I found out that members of my team are asking, what does our leader want from me and how can I over deliver? I would feel like I totally blew it as the leader of the team.

    Conversely, if they are continually asking how they can get better and better at delivering on their goals that they are passionate about because they really are their goals born out of our vision, now we’re talking!

  • AEB

    As a woman in business, I just assumed exceeding the mark was the baseline in order to run the race with male colleagues.