Some people say success and happiness come from being in the right place at the right time. I think it's more about the right person finding himself or herself in the right place.
During my more than 15 years in the tech industry, I've seen really qualified, outstanding individuals suffer miserably or burnout in their jobs. At the same time I've seen people with less talent and lower principles rise quickly in their corporate ranks. If you watch this from afar with no real consideration to the context of where and how these individuals worked, you might think there's truth to that saying, "nice guys finish last."
It wasn't until I came across Adam Grant's book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, that I realized it wasn't about being nice or cutthroat. It's about who you are and the size and culture of where you work. Grant is one of the youngest tenured professors at the Wharton School and a former advertising director. Grant's book talks about the differences between people at work, putting them into three categories: givers, takers, and matchers.
Takers are people who when working with others try to get as much out of that interaction for their own personal benefit and give back as little as they can in return. In their view, this is the quickest way to success. Givers on the other hand go out their way to help others either by mentoring, sharing their insights, or lending a hand when possible without seeking anything in return. Matchers, representing the majority of us, are somewhere in the middle.
According to Grant, the takers don't always succeed as much as you would think. Meanwhile givers are represented on either end of the success scale -- highly successful or unsuccessful. From my personal experience and working with people on each end of the spectrum at a variety of tech companies, givers and takers fail or succeed based entirely on where they work.
In large corporations with multiple layers of management, takers thrive where givers fail. In these environments, takers can run and prosper undetected for their lack of contributions. They easily manage up and tear down and recycle their staffs in the process. In a more cynical sense, we call them "suits" or people with no real substance, but still manage to look good for upper management. While I've seen these workers succeed in large organizations, I've also seen them fail in smaller settings where they are quickly recognized for their inability to contribute and lack upper levels to manage up, and layers in which to hide.
On the other end, I've seen givers rapidly burnout in large organizations. Their desire to help others causes them to take on more than their normal responsibilities. Or they go unnoticed because of their reticence to accept recognition for their accomplishments. That's not to say that givers can't flourish in large organizations. If they work to adopt more matching skills and land with a manager who is a matcher and favors givers, then they'll likely rise up in the organization.
Matchers always seem to land somewhere in the middle of either sized organization. They are more likely to grant a favor, assuming they'll eventually get something in return. According to Grant, matchers also hate seeing takers succeed and will go out of their way to help promote and support givers. They want to see givers rewarded for their generosity.
So if you're starting a career or reflecting on an existing one that might not be taking off as fast as you wanted, consider taking stock of yourself to determine if you're a giver, taker or matcher. Then take a hard look at the size and culture of the organization you want to work in.
If you're a giver, then maybe avoid even starting a career in a Fortune 500 company, unless you've examined the company's culture more closely and found that it fosters a collaborative work environment. If you're a taker, then you'll want to avoid small environments where everyone is exposed equally for their work. Or maybe start working towards the center as a matcher.
The trick is conducting an honest assessment of yourself and the work around you. Few people I know would consider themselves takers and others may not realize the extent to which they are givers. A quick way to get started is to conduct a free 360 assessment at www.giveandtake.com.
Or just ask yourself a few questions. Do you quickly agree to do a favor for a colleague while expecting nothing in return? Do those favors sometimes turn out to be more work than you expected, eventually delaying or distracting you from your own priorities? Obviously these are all behaviors related to a giver.
When you communicate your work or accomplishments, do you use pronouns like "I" and "me" instead of "us" and "we"? Would you say you "manage" a team instead of "leading" it? If you manage someone, do you tell people that person "works for you"? You guessed it, that's a taker.
After determining if you're a giver, taker or matcher, the next step is finding yourself a work environment that plays to your personality. And don't just look at the size of the company or number of employees.
For example, are executives sectioned off in offices while workers are clumped in cubicles? Or is everyone evenly situated in similar workspaces? Do their departments operate in silos or is there a strong level of collaboration and teamwork? Are there mentoring programs available? Are you able to hold 1x1s with your manager's boss? This is not to say that there's a one-size-fits-all for each personality. As a vice president at Bloomfire, I lead a team that includes a mix of all three categories. Everyone offers a different flair and levels of contribution. And all seem to evolve and grow to different points in Grant's spectrum.
The majority of the employees in Grant's book were somewhere in the middle as we all are more or less matchers. But the key is knowing yourself and then finding the match. Far too often people stick with the same environment, expecting a different result. Often employees come away feeling as if it's their fault. The right size and right company culture can go a along way in bringing out the best in you.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.