Basic Black for Outstanding Performance

I have just finished reading a great book, full of common sense advice for career and life success.  It’s called Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life).  Cathie Black, President of Hearst Magazines, is the author.

I really like this book.  If you’re serious about career and life success, you need to read it.  Ms. Black shares the story of her amazing life and career.  She tells you what she’s learned along the way.  Savvy readers will read with a highlighter to take advantage of the common sense wisdom she imparts.

The book starts strong with a great story about her first job, where she inadvertently left the original of her resume on the copier machine at work and got a call from a senior executive at the company who found it.  It ends strong too.  The last paragraph reads:

  • “And that’s the final piece of advice I’d like to leave you with.  Opportunities will come – they always do.  Trust yourself enough to jump at them.  Never be afraid to go for it.  And remember, you deserve to have the best life, and the best career, that you can have.”

In between, Ms. Black shares her thoughts on such important topics as: Drive, Risk, People, Fear, Power, Passion, Attitude and Leadership.  I like this book so much, I am going to blog about it every day this week.

Today is Wednesday, so this post is on outstanding performance.

  1. Outstanding performers are technically competent.  They remain technically competent because they are lifelong learners.
  2. Outstanding performers set and achieve goals.
  3. Outstanding performers are organized.  They manage their time, stress and lifestyle well.

On page 28, Ms. Black offers three pieces of profound, but often overlooked common sense advice on performance:

  1. “Never surprise your boss.
  2. "Anticipate his or her needs.
  3. “Make him or her look good.”

You immediate boss is the person who, next to you, has the most influence over your life and career.  He or she is someone who you want to make happy.  You can do this by simply doing your job well.

When Ms. Black says, “Never surprise your boss,” she means that you should do simple things.  Keep him or her in the loop.  Let him or her know about potential problems as soon as they come up.  Solve small problems before they become big ones.

Sometimes people don’t know what they want or need.  If you’re good at your job, you should be able to help your boss, by identifying his or her needs before he or she does and then doing something about them.

Here’s an example.  I am often interviewed on podcasts and radio shows.  I’ve learned that it is helpful to provide the interviewer with a list of questions.  In this way, I’ll know what he or she is going to ask, and I’ll know how to answer.  One of my clients was going to be interviewed for a pod cast recently.  I realized that he had no idea of how to prepare.  I suggested that he jot down several questions he wanted to be asked.  I also suggested that, even though he knows his stuff, it would be a good idea to make a few notes on the talking points he wants to make for each question.  In this way, he would be prepared and do a good job in the interview. 

My clients are my bosses.  I want them to look good, so I offer this type of advice to them.  In this case, my client didn’t even know that he needed my help – until after he did the interview.  Then he thanked me. 

Treat your boss, the same way.  Anticipate his or her needs and then meet them.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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