Who said business is not personal? It cannot get more personal
I have always wondered why some people are more successful than other (I mean, most other) people. It is probably a combination of personal charm, smartness, a lot of hard-work, and some luck. But when it comes to leadership the qualities are probably the same, and it’s really less about what you do but more about who you are (as a person): passionate, visionary, engaging, motivating. Think about any leader around you. When a great leader speaks, you listen with all ears, you can’t wait to learn more, you are inspired to think, you can identify with his/her stories, and you want to follow, and you want to take actions.
Our Vice Chairman spoke at a town hall earlier this week on where we stand with our business today and what we will need to do in Q4 in order to meet our targets for 2011. He is a native British with a great deal of humor and personal charisma. When he was highlighting our significant sales performance back in April (best month of the year) he mentioned he “posted the chart on his bathroom door” and “his wife has the same chart tattooed on her back”. It was a joke obviously. Everyone laughed. But the important thing is, guaranteed, there is no way you will forget about this bar chart from April and it will haunt you and drive you for better performance for the rest of the year.
Personally I have always loved leaders who have this “sense of urgency”, which gets reflected in the way they think and the way they talk. I recently watched an interview with Meg Whitman, one of the Fortune top 50 most powerful women in business, the new CEO for HP, former CEO for eBay, and the candidate for Governor of California in 2009-2010, where she commented that politics is tougher than business because politics is very personal (think about personal attacks/no privacy etc). However she goes on to explain that when answering questions in politics, you get away with the so-called “political spin”, which is both expected and accepted by the public; however if you do the same with your employees in a business environment, you will be walked out of the door!
Business is personal because ultimately it is about YOU. I am a firm believer that how you behave and react in a business environment speaks profoundly about who you are as a person, and this is especially important when the company wants to put you in a senior position when it’s not JUST ABOUT being able to “do the job” but also about “making touch decisions” and “use good judgment”. So I want to talk about 3 things (3 Ds) that I have learned throughout the years on how you can get to that position faster, and have as less damage as possible on your way.
DEVELOP A Thick Skin
Scott Young wrote this amazing article on how to develop a thick skin and I encourage you to look into that especially if you are interested in how to deal with criticism. But my perspective on developing a thick skin is different: I want to address the aspect of “taking initiatives”. The No.1 human fear, for decades, is presentation (or, public speaking). To put yourself out there, to speak up, to sit at the table, to propose an idea that’s never-heard-of, or to reject some senior leaders’ opinion even though he/she is obviously wrong, all require a thick skin, as well as, of course, in some situations a lot of preparation and articulation.
So I want to share with you three pieces of thoughts that will help you to navigate a situation where you feel hesitant or embarrassed to stick to what you want and who you are.
- Talk to yourself first, actually, talk to yourself ALL THE TIME. I know, this sounds a little bit crazy. But actually no, whenever you want to make a speech or deliver any sort of presentation, you should always, always, be your first audience. Now, what do I mean by “talk to yourself all the time”? It means you do sanity check for yourself, it means you develop a relationship with yourself, so you know where is your comfort zone and what are your triggers; it means getting comfortable with your own voice, tone, and speed, so you are in better control of yourself when you want to be convincing to other people.
- Know that they may laugh at you, and GET OVER IT. “Face” is important to everyone but at the end of the day, what’s the big deal?! The only way to learn a foreign language is to USE IT. And of course your pronunciation will not be perfect in the beginning, you may not be able to express yourself clearly, but that’s the process EVERYBODY needs to go through. If you cannot get over the fact that people may laugh at you and it’s NORMAL and the more you speak up the less they will laugh at you, you will always be left behind, wondering for the rest of your life: wow, I really wish I could talk like that too one of these days…
- Know that they may reject or ignore you, but KEEP DOING IT anyway. I once interviewed some NYC kid who described his experience winning the Pepsi Contest (sell the most number of cans?) while he was the youngest contestant. I asked him how he did it. He smiled: that day was really hot, and we got a lot of rejections, and honestly many people just gave up. They are like: gosh I’ve got an MBA, I don’t need to do this! But I didn’t take a break and I was just there working on it. –I guess perseverance pays off after all. Sometimes the only way to win is to be the one still standing, when everyone else is calling quit.
DELIVER the Result
I walked into one of our portfolio management executive’s office the other day, and on the whiteboard on the wall there is a sentence like this: DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT. I know many of you are secretively perfectionists; actually I would like to say I am one myself. In one of the semesters back at college, I always struggled with submitting papers in time because I always felt I could have done more research, I could have had more supporting materials, I could have more colorful language or more provoking thoughts. However, perfectionist cannot survive in the business world because (maybe) they do great work but they can’t deliver, or they can’t deliver in time. It’s a fast-paced society; many senior managers are result-driven; you just have too many tight deadlines; you just have to be able to say: okay I am done with this, and now let’s move on to the next project!
Forget about politics, forget about discrimination. Not to say that they don’t exist but there’s honestly not much you can do. What you can do, however, is to deliver, and then move on. Being able to move on is phenomenal. If you cannot move on, you can NEVER broaden your scope of responsibility; you will be stuck doing ground work (or shitty job) and I know you don’t want that, it just gets too personal on this level.
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put all you’ve got on the table; it definitely doesn’t mean you don’t need to work as hard as before since now you don’t need to pursue perfection anymore. It means how you can think strategically and prioritize effectively; it also means how well you understand your boss, your team, your business and industry, so you can make good judgment when you do prioritize. And ultimately, it means you do a good job for what you are hired to do. And having that reputation is crucial to your career advancement.
Know the DIRECTION
If there is one gift I have in my life, I would say it is vision. I am not talking about eye-sight, in fact I probably studied too hard when I was a kid so I wear contact lens almost every day now. The vision I am talking about is what you see when you close your eyes. When you start imagining things, when you try to see yourself in the future, when you try to project a situation, how clearly, how vividly, and how detail-oriented you can picture that in your own mind. I am surprisingly good at that. So it must be a gift.
Instead of calling myself “goal-oriented”, I would rather say “purpose-oriented”. I don’t want to argue whether this is good or not, but a lot of times I care a lot about “Where this conversation is going?” “Why am I here talking about it?” “Does this make sense to me?” and “What do we need to do to get there?” This kind of mindset is great at work. Knowing the direction is important to me because I always want to understand the purpose of the job, the expectations on me, and the complexity and timeline of the work and how much resources I can leverage. I never want to put myself in a situation where I don’t know why I need to be there (not being value-added), or even worse, a position I never really signed up for.
However I also want to share with you HOW THIS HAS IMPACTED MY PERSONAL LIFE in a different, and almost disturbing way as well, and some times I wonder if you (my dear readers) sometimes face the same problem. Work is a big part of your life and certain habits you form at work will become common sense to you in your life outside of work as well, and it’s not always easy to switch gears. In my personal interactions with close friends or dates, I have constantly asked questions like “Why do you ask?” or “What are you getting at?” which is just one of those questions I always ask. But to my friend/date it is almost a turn-off because they think I sound “defensive”, or maybe I am being “manipulative” because I need to know where the conversation is going so I can “better position” my answers.
I have been reflecting on this for a while, and if you have any thoughts/advices please share with me too.
~~~But the most profound lesson I learned these days was when the world-famous Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi went home one day to report to her mom the great news of her promotion, only to find her mom yelling at her “get me some milk!” in the garage. Indra was irritated. She yelled back, “I am not going to get the milk because I have news for you!” Her mom said, “no the news has to wait, go get me the milk!” Indra got her mom the milk but was really mad because she thought this was the “moment” her mother should be proud of her and share her excitement. And her mom said, “Let me stop you right there…”
“When you walk into the garage, you are a wife, you are a mother. You are not an executive. So leave that at the door of the garage”.
Who said business is not personal? – To me, it cannot get more personal.