When we were small, we were taught that if we wanted to be successful, we had to study hard and get good results at school. Getting straight “A”s had to be our goal if we wanted to succeed in life. But in reality, how many straight A students do you know become really successful as they grow up? The good boys and good girls who were very disciplined at school, submitting all their assignments on time and getting good results in exams may just end up doing a job they don’t like despite the fact that they can make money out of it. Why is it like that? Weren’t we taught that to become successful, we’re supposed to study hard and be good at school? While I was growing up, I have been told that if you want to have a successful life, then your academic grades really does matter a lot. You have to be a topper. I have been told that this is for once and you work hard and get into good university. That’s all! Your don’t have to work harder ever again. I never understood that but I followed it because everyone around me was behind the good grades. I used to go to school and then extra classes and then too tired to think about anything. I felt like I have been programmed and am just following the pattern to become a topper and then get into a good university. I will be honest, I failed. I could not get good scores and I did not get any good university. In-fact I changed my subjects. But have you ever thought this is a cycle. This repeats again when we start working as a professional. Once again you have to become a topper.
Whitney Johnson, author of Dare, Dream, Do recently pointed out in an article for the Harvard Business Review, writes:
“In school, in order to get the grade, you learned to provide the authority figure—the teacher—what he or she wanted. In the workplace, that translates into asking ‘good girl’ questions: ‘What does this boss want from me? Which of my boss’s needs aren’t being met? What do I need to do to get an A?’
“This approach may get you some initial gold stars, but it won’t get you what you really want, which is to be an indispensable player, not just to your boss, but in your industry. To become an all-star, you need to develop a new skill: you need to learn how to challenge and influence authority, rather than simply giving the authority figures what they want.”
They want us to put up our hands and wait to be chosen. They want us to keep asking other people for teach us to deliver on, rather than change, teach us to redeploy ideas rather than originate teach us to expect that people in authority know – rather than letting us imagine that – in rather inspiring ways – no one is really on top of what’s going teach us to trust that they have our largest, best, life-long interests at heart; without letting on that they are merely interested in our achievements.
What they don’t tell you about toppers
- Most toppers seem to walk along the road that was well-traveled. They have not cleared the jungle and crafted a fresh path. Based on research conducted by Boston College on 181 high school toppers, 90 per cent of toppers are now in professional careers with 40 per cent in the highest tier jobs. But none of them has changed the world, if that is what you want to know.
- Academic grades are only loosely correlated with intelligence. Standardized tests are a better measure of IQ (though some would question that too). Academic achievements are often the result of individual effort or intelligence or ability to follow instructions.
- Basically, to succeed at school or any organisation, you need to be obedient, and whether you’re good or not very much depends on the managements expectations. And instead of helping individuals to understand why they should do certain things, they are forced to follow the rules, leaving no room for originality and critical life doesn’t work like this in succeed in life, you need to think out of the box instead of doing what everyone else’s doing. And there’re many aspects to take care of. For example, what to do to be a happy person; how to maintain a healthy relationship; how to work smart; and what to do to lead a meaningful life etc.
- To succeed, one needs emotional intelligence, empathy, rapport building and social skills. If the job involves working in a team, selling an idea, persuading people to adopt a point of view, then social skills matter. Most jobs in the organisations fall in this category. Think of each function (sales, HR, finance, manufacturing…) and you will see that all of them need the ability to work with others and influence people to adopt a particular approach.
- When people reach the end of their ability to influence, they term the environment as “political”. In an organisation, it is not necessarily the best idea that will win. It is one that everyone signs up for. That involves influencing others to give their time, attention, resources and support. This is what toppers are often not necessarily good at, if they have not worked at developing their social skills.
- While it’s a fact that anyone who has at least a high school diploma has more opportunities because one needs to have some fundamental knowledge and skills; statistics show that people who failed at school didn’t end up failing in may have already known that Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey and Jim Carey etc. didn’t do too well at school or are school dropouts. In fact, there’re a lot more than just the “big names” who are successful in life without completing school.According to Current Biography Yearbook (editions 1959-2005 & 2007), out of all the successful people, at least 768 of them are school dropouts and they’re successful in different fields.
- Being competent is not enough to be successful. Being “influential” is the socially acceptable term for being politically savvy. If you believe that being a CEO is all about working hard and having brilliant ideas, think again. It involves being “political savvy” to handle the media, disgruntled employees, persuading board members, and more. CEOs have often built networks that support them as they move an organisation along.
- At work, successful people are the ones who think “outside the box”. We celebrate mavericks and thinkers who break boundaries and connect the dots the others cannot see. That is toppers need to learn as well.
Look, am not saying that it is not right to be a topper or a good performer in your organisation. It is a step ahead to be happy, to be content and to be lucky. But it is not the destination. Parents shall give liberty to kids to become what they wish to, so that tomorrow they can live forever without any regrets. And kids will then understand their responsibilities and find their true potential. And that is when they can choose a right profession and right passion for themselves sooner or later. My close friend Vireesh who is also a coach shared the relevant video. It is one of my favorites. Click HERE to check it out.
“Let your boys test their wings. They may not be eagles, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t soar free.”
Special Thanks to Meredith Lepore, Anna Chui, and Abhijit Bhaduri for the insight.