You learn how to learn in school. You learn how to do a job at work. And if you work hard and groom yourself well, you may eventually learn how a business operates in an industry. But once in a blue moon, through experience, you pick up one of those lessons that nobody can teach you. Those hard to come by lessons are truly priceless.
Last week, in 5 Business Books That Made a Difference, I mentioned Mark McCormack’s What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School. That inspired me to share a few big lessons I’ve learned over the years. Each one figured prominently in my success:
If you want to gain management cred, tell folks what you’re going to do and then do it. Having the guts to stick your neck out and take a big risk, then executing and delivering on the promise, has management written all over it. It works both internally and externally. Broadcasting an aggressive goal and then achieving it is far more effective than just doing it. Just make sure you pull it off. Sure, it’s a risk, but no risk, no reward, right?
If you’re way behind on a hot deadline, take some time to relax and chill out. First, you’ll think more clearly and be more productive going down the stretch. Second, there’s a reason why you’re behind to begin with and that pause may provide just the right inspiration or perspective you needed all along. Third, in case you need anyone to help you, nobody likes working with a stress monster.
If you want something badly, consider what would happen if you don’t get it. The earth will continue to turn and your life won’t end. In fact, nothing will happen, except that you’ll lighten your load, reduce your expectations, and in so doing, actually increase your chances of getting what you want. It’s the whole “if you want something let it go” thing. It really works.
If you want to be calm during an important presentation, stress-out beforehand. When you stress yourself it raises your blood pressure and your arteries widen to account for the change. Afterwards, when your body returns to normal, you feel a physical sense of calm that lasts a pretty long time. It’s the same reason you feel relaxed after getting out of a hot tub or a sauna. I noticed this empirically; a doctor I know added the explanation.
If you want to get support for a groundbreaking product or program, lose the big pitch. Grassroots efforts sell new ideas far more effectively than mass-market approaches. It works internally or externally. Get support from key stakeholders one-on-one rather than attempt to take on the world and sway everyone all at once. Pretty sure that was inspired by Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm.
If you want someone to talk, shut up. Whether it’s a customer, an employee, your boss, whoever, set the stage by stating your purpose and then shut up. In general, people like to talk and that’s exactly what they’ll do, probably telling you far more than if you’d tried to drag it out of them bit by bit. If the person is unusually guarded, then give a little to get a little. Ask leading questions and listen actively, of course.