How to Win in Business

How challenging your boss could be a smart career move

Following the pack may have seemed like the best way to get ahead in high school, but it's not the best strategy for the workplace.

You certainly don't want to be the employee who talks back to your boss or starts arguments with your colleagues, but executives say that speaking up and sharing your ideas can pay off.

According to self-made millionaire and serial entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis, being able to form an argument for an idea and having the courage to state it can make you stand out, in a good way.

On CNBC's "The Partner," entrepreneurs compete for his investment and business guidance. The trait he says he values the most? Having conviction.

"What I'm ultimately looking to see is who actually is going to stand up and tell me it's a bad idea and have a conviction about it," he says.

Marcus Lemonis
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Marcus Lemonis

In fact, it was having the courage to challenge her boss that helped Ursula Burns, chairwoman and former CEO of Xerox, fast-track her career.

During a company meeting in 1989, Burns, then an early-career professional, challenged an executive VP. In the meeting, an employee asked why Xerox was so focused on diversity. Burns didn't appreciate the explanation given by the executive leading the session.

So, as CNN's Cristina Alesci reports, "She stood up, in front of everyone, and chided him for displaying a lack of passion and principles. Her comments led to an 'unfriendly' exchange between the two."

The man she argued with was Wayland Hicks, a high-level executive. "I thought I was going to be fired," Burns tells CNN.

Ursula Burns, chairwoman and former CEO of Xerox, in Havana, Cuba on March 21, 2016.
Justin Solomon | CNBC
Ursula Burns, chairwoman and former CEO of Xerox, in Havana, Cuba on March 21, 2016.

The two continued their discussion over several meetings, and in 1990, Hicks offered Burns an executive assistant role that introduced her to the C-suite. The job changed the course of her career, ushering her into the top level of the business.

Two decades later, in 2009, she took over as CEO of Xerox. She held the position until 2016 and is now the chairwoman of the company.

According to former Google career coach Jenny Blake, having the courage to stand up for something that's important to you can also help you avoid large workplace conflicts down the road.

Of course, you'll need to do it gracefully.

For example, if you strongly disagree with something, speak up politely and professionally and offer another solution. Psychologist Amy Cooper Hakim, an expert on employer-employee relationships, says that the best way to approach any problem in the workplace is to remove emotion from the discussion.

So next time you feel passionate about something, speak up politely and calmly.

It may just pay off.

Video by Andrea Kramar

Check out why a self-made millionaire says challenging your boss can help you get ahead