Since screw-ups tend to be magnets for advice, I’ve received a lot of painfully direct—yet ultimately very helpful comments—along the way:
“Express your individuality on your own time.” In my first job after college I sometimes let my personality overshadow my responsibilities and duties and it definitely hurt my performance and limited my opportunities.
We’re all servants (in a good way) and our customers, peers, bosses, and direct reports all have needs. Meeting those needs—on their terms—is more important than somehow “staying true” to ourselves.
Maintaining your integrity is vital, but there’s a big difference between staying true to yourself and “just being me.”
“Face value has no value.” It’s easy to view the actions of others through the lens of how that behaviour impacts us, especially if those actions impact us negatively.
Still, most employees don’t try to do a bad job. Most customers aren’t intentionally difficult. Most bosses aren’t simply out to get you.
There is always more to the story. Fail to look deeper and you miss an opportunity to make a bad situation better—for everyone.
“They’re just as scared of you.” I wrestled in high school and traveled to summer tournaments where other wrestlers often seemed larger than life. I assigned them a near-mythical status because they came from different states and wore t-shirts from high-profile camps and wrestling clubs.
I never imagined they might see me the same way.
The same is true in business. Under the Armani and Wharton School and high-profile name-drops is a guy or gal just as nervous and insecure as you. Symbols of success are often just a mask.
The playing field is always more level than it seems.
“When you fire someone and need to say more than, ‘We have to let you go,’ you haven’t done your job.” Except in unusual circumstances, firing an employee is the last step in a longer process. If along the way you’ve identified sub-par performance, provided additional training or resources, set targets and timelines for performance improvement, and followed up when progress is lacking, then there are no surprises, no additional conversations necessary, no arguments to have… the employee knows.
And you’ve done your job as well as you can. But even so…
“If you can sleep the night after you fire someone, something is wrong with you.” Even if you’ve done everything right, firing an employee feels horrible. (I know they “fired themselves,” but still.) You’ve impacted their career, their life, their family… you should feel awful.
If you don’t feel awful, it’s time to step out of a management role.
“Always sell harder than you think you should.” I’m fairly shy and often insecure so “selling” is hard for me. I felt more comfortable waiting for bosses to discover my talents and promote me. I feel more comfortable waiting for potential customers to somehow discover me.
That’s a problem, because success in any field or profession is at least partly built on salesmanship—the ability and willingness to determine needs, overcome objections, provide solutions, and to be charismatic and convincing.
Be enthusiastic. Be especially about yourself. People will respond positively.
“Seriously… just shut up.” I used to talk a lot. I thought I was insightful and clever and witty and, well, I thought I was a hoot. Very occasionally I might have been.
Most of the time I wasn’t.
Truly confident people don’t feel the need to talk—at all. I hate when it happens, but I still occasionally realise I’m talking not because the other person is interested in what I have to say but because I’m interested in what I have to say.
Never speak just to please yourself; when you do you end up pleasing no one.
“Pick something you believe in and stick to it.” When I first started racing motorcycles the then-500cc world champion (this was before today’s MotoGP; remember, I’m really old) told me he always walked an unfamiliar track before riding any laps. It was a ritual that allowed him to spot surfaces, bumps, and potential racing lines he might otherwise have missed.
Good enough for him, good enough for me, so I started doing the same thing.
Did it work? I certainly thought it did… and therefore, placebo or not, it did.
Think about a task you perform frequently, choose something you can do that actually helps you perform better, and start doing it every time: Whether it’s how you prepare, how you follow-up, how you’ll double-check your work, etc. Soon performing your “ritual” will give you more confidence, especially when the stakes are high, and as a result your performance will improve.
Think of it like wearing lucky socks… except in this case it actually makes a difference.
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