To Succeed, Be the One Everyone Can Count On
It’s not just country music that we rely on to say the simple things that need sayin’. And the blues doesn’t have a monopoly on tellin’ it like it is (or how it ain’t) or the way it should be. The fact is that over the years many songs from many genres have told stories that resonate with millions of listeners; that's how "hits" become timeless classics.
Sometimes, but only rarely, is it a memorable hook that drives the widespread appreciation of these classic tunes: a special intro (like Keith’s on "Satisfaction") or a guitar solo (think Carlos Santana). Most of the time it's the immediate and intimate connection we have with the lyrics that seals the deal. They seem to speak directly to us, ultimately “killing us softly” with a sensation of unexpected emotion.
Putting aside all the songs about love (including love of country) and loss, what strikes me is that the single most successful and consistent message in the largest number of classic songs is one that's just as significant in our business lives as it is in our personal affairs. It's about the importance of being there.
Think about it. What have you got "when you're down and troubled and you need a helping hand"? Of course, you’ve got a friend. And who will "take your part when darkness comes and pain is all around”? Simon and Garfunkel--for sure. And for all those times "in our lives when we all have pain, we all have sorrow”? We know we can lean on Bill Withers.
All people need someone in their lives that they can count on, someone to call when there’s no one else to call. And, these days, with radical change and ongoing disruption a constant part of every business, the most valuable people in any company are the ones you can count on in a crisis or a crunch--the "go-to" guys and girls. The people who are there in a pinch and who you naturally tend to run to, not from, when the feces hits the fan.
This isn't part of anyone's job description, and it's not something you can create on the fly. That's why there's no better investment you could possibly make in your career or your future than being the first stop when someone's looking for help, versus the last resort.
The good news is that this is a trait you can develop over time, like any other part of your reputation. If you're truly committed and your efforts are sincere and authentic, you can make it happen. Here's how.
1. Stay Up (Perspiration)
Be the early bird at the office. Effort and energy trump talent all day long. And it never hurts to be the night owl, too. Not the guy who's the last to leave the office after the TGIF party, but the person who puts in the extra time to make sure that things are done right the first time. Turns out that the buddies you buy beers for aren't very often the ones you'd bet your business on. And as often as not, while you're bellying up to the bar (or buying someone a breakfast burrito the next morning), the real winners are back at the ranch taking care of business.
2. Step Up (Passion)
Make sure that everyone knows you're interested and available, that you're excited about the business and the opportunities and that you really want to be a part of the program. Ya gotta want it and it's gotta show. You need to put it out there and understand that the worst people can do is say no--they won't eat you. And if you keep asking, I guarantee you that it'll only be a "no for now," and it'll be full speed ahead soon enough. Anyone who tells you it's not cool to be out front and eager these days will soon be changing the bottles on the water cooler while you're being welcomed into the club.
3. Study Up (Preparation)
Even in the world of great entrepreneurial BS'ers, it actually does help to know what you're talking about. "Wingin’ it" is good for sports bars and on Thanksgiving, but it's not a strategy for success in business. As I pointed out recently, saying you don't know something these days isn't a commentary on your lack of knowledge but a confession of laziness and lack of interest, because the information is out there; it's mostly a matter of looking. The kind of knowledge, research, and situational awareness that matter don’t happen automatically or without help. You have to put in the time, do the looking, and ask for assistance when you don't have, or can't find, all the answers, in order to be ready when someone asks for a hand.
4. Stand Up (Principles)
You can't create value if you don't have a set of real values that consistently guide and inform the way you behave. Charismatic leaders can attract a lot of followers, but the attraction is to themselves rather than to something greater and more important. Cause leaders bring the multitudes along with them in support of doing things that matter, and make a difference not simply to a single business but to a broader and more general good. It's important for the people you work with (and for) to understand that you believe that the best plans and the best businesses are focused on creating situations in which everyone can benefit and where it’s a win-win-win all around. Not easy to pull off, but very important in the end.
5. Bear Up (Perseverance)
Execution is everything. Keeping at it, getting knocked down and picking yourself up again, making it clear that you won’t settle for less or take no for an answer--these are all behaviors and traits that the big dogs in the business will quickly pick up on, because A) it's absolutely a part of their own DNA and B) it's also a big part of what got them to where they are. Winners have a Spidey-sense about other winners and, while their ears don't actually perk up like a dog's, you can't miss the shift in their interest and attention when they encounter another of their own species. Wanting to win is fine; wanting to do the work that it takes to win, and to keep at it until you do win, is what makes the difference in the end.
That's all it takes. You can make it happen, and there's no time like the present to get started. It's a lifelong, iterative journey, and the good news is that it gets better all the time.
If there's a goal or an endpoint to the process, it's very simple. When the chips are down and the fat's in the fire, you want to be the one who people can count on.
HOWARD TULLMAN | Columnist
Howard Tullman is the CEO of 1871 in Chicago where, at the moment, 260 digital startups are building their businesses every day. He is also the general managing partner of G2T3V, LLC and Chicago High Tech Investors – both early-stage venture funds; a member of Mayor Emanuel’s ChicagoNEXT Innovation Council; and Governor Quinn’s Illinois Innovation Council. He is an adviser to many technology businesses and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. @tullman