Ursula Burns of Xerox offered an insightful lesson about careers and patience – something she heard from a previous boss, about the importance of ”getting to zero”. She explained it with the help of a piece of paper – she drew a line across the middle, and shaded an area below the left end of the line.
”When you start the job, whatever it is, you have to find out who the secretary is, where the bathrooms are, who your teammates are. Trust me, for a lot of time you are operating below zero,” she said.
She pointed to the middle part of the line.
This is when most people want to leave a job. They say, ‘I’m done. I know everything. I’m done.’ But think about that. If you left there, basically all this area under the curve, which is negative, which is takeaway, you owe the company all of that. Then you do this for six more months, and you can operate the place smoothly, but you haven’t really transformed it in the ways that you can help transform it.”
She started shading an area above the line to the right. That represented what a manager is expected to contribute – give back – after absorbing all of the training and experience below the left side of the line. The net balance amounts to ”getting to zero.”
”You can only leave after you have put in much above the curve as under the curve,” Burns said. Unfortunately, that usually takes more than a day, and it takes a couple of years. People would say you put me in this developmental assignment. I know how to run the place now. Thank you. Can I go to the next one? I say, Well, how about all the stuff you owe us? How about getting settled in for a while longer and then start to transform it.”
Extract from Corner Office, How Top CEO’s made it and How You can do it by Adam Bryant