Rise: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life
Patty Azzarello and Keith Ferrazzi
Highly successful people seemed to get there by breaking through limitations of how their jobs were defined—by conceiving and doing extra things above and around their job descriptions.
When you start managing your career on purpose, you end up doing a better job because in order to advance your career, you must add more value to the business. In fact, adding more value is the only reliable way to advance.
If you burn up all your time and energy doing excellent work, you may fail to get recognized (LOOK Better) and fail to build a network of support (CONNECT Better). So your career stalls. You are doing an excellent job of everything that is asked of you but you still get stuck. Remember, it’s not just about the work.
To add real value to the business, you need to understand what is truly valuable to the business and you need to build a broad network of support so you can deliver significant results in a big and far-reaching enough way.
DO Better is about freeing yourself from your overwhelming tactical workload and identifying and delivering on the few most critical outcomes
They understand which audiences matter most and they communicate with the right people at the right times, in a compelling way.
People with high credibility get more done because they face fewer obstacles.
This was indeed a rude awakening. Not only was good work not enough—great work and great results were not enough! Alas, I had missed LOOK Better entirely. No one outside of my own organization or my boss knew what I had accomplished. That’s how I learned that many people in addition to my boss got a say in what happened to me. Oops. Thus began my journey to learn about all the other stuff you need to do, in addition to exceeding your job description, to get ahead.
Doing exceptional work is what gives you something real to create visibility for. They go together.
Successful people build networks, get help, and have mentors.
As you advance in a company, success becomes less about the specific work you do and more about who you are as a person and a leader. It’s about your ability to create broad visibility, credibility, connections, and support outside your organization. The higher you go, the more your results come from enabling people who work for you to deliver great things and from working with people around and above you to eliminate obstacles, get ideas, negotiate for resources, secure cooperation, and build momentum on a large scale. It’s not about the work you deliver personally.
No one other than YOU has any motivation whatsoever to make you less busy.
If you are overwhelmed by the activities of your job and you use up all your time and energy on your current job, you are not ready for a bigger one. Simple as that.
The most successful people are not the ones who were less busy along the way.
KEY INSIGHT: It’s important to realize that not only do you have permission, but also as a leader you are expected to be able to deal with an overwhelming workload and not be overwhelmed. That’s the job.
Your job as a leader is to deal with chaos and pressure and make it more manageable. You are supposed to create systems and processes to get more done with less effort.
It’s up to you (not your manager or your company) to reinvent your job so that you can work where the value is.
Delivering Work Is Not the Same Thing as Adding Value This is a really important point. If you don’t internalize this point, you will get stuck. Never confuse output with outcome.
But when you are a manager, the value you add to your company is no longer based on the hours you spend at work. It is based on the value of the outcomes you create.
On the other hand, if you never take that hour and you stay busy with tactical activities, you may have put in your time and looked busy (delivered lots of output), but you are not creating value (outcomes) by helping the company get the work done in a more efficient or more effective way.
Those two thoughts—getting great results with less work—are at the core of much great leadership!
The better and stronger you are, the more you can give. It’s a basic tenet in any survival situation; you know: “Put your own oxygen mask on first and then help others.”
So I was forced to find a way to do higher-value work in less time. In my case, that was not my brilliant strategic thinking, it was just my reality.
While many of my peers stayed overbusy, I was forced to find a way to work at a higher level of value.
Because if you have a lot of energy, and there’s nothing competing for your time and nothing emotionally pulling you away from work—like family, hobbies, or community—you are more likely to stay overbusy.
You need to pick where you are going to add value (DO Better) and make sure the company actually values it (LOOK Better). Then do it in a sustainable way so you can keep delivering important outcomes.
Just know that it’s not the work that matters; it’s the outcomes you deliver.
Trust that giving yourself time to think will help you find ways to deliver higher-value business outcomes and get the right work done in less time.
People will see you delivering real value, getting smarter and faster—not just working really hard. It will get less scary.
What you are seeing is that they are not doing a complete job. And that’s because they have mastered the art of not doing everything. And what they are doing are those few things that will make the biggest impact on the business—and they are doing them very well.
Welcome to being a leader. This is your job. Your job is not to deliver work when everything lines up to support you. Your job is to get the most important stuff done despite everything that lines up to kill you.
Your job is to deal with the overload and the lack of personal support and to negotiate room, keep your boss and stakeholders at bay, and keep your team on board. This is indeed one of the hardest things leaders deal with and therefore one of the key things that sets the most successful leaders apart. The most successful leaders are able to fend off the endless demands and get the critical stuff done, no matter who and what is trying to throw them off course.
As a manager, you are expected to analyze all the tasks that come in, contain them, and propose a plan that will have the biggest impact on the business. You need to choose from all the work you are getting and map out the right work to achieve the right desired business outcomes. KEY INSIGHT: The work almost never comes across the table at you the way you should do it.
If you don’t apply strategic thinking and judgment to tune the workload, your boss doesn’t need you. She could just as easily assign all the work directly to your team. Your job is to make sense of it and prioritize it correctly and show how a redefined workload delivers the necessary results. This adds real value—and lets you succeed.
I know that what I wanted from my staff was for them to catch all the work, analyze it, make judgments about business priorities, and come back to me and negotiate.
Your boss needs you to help her with her thinking. You are being paid to judge and decide, not to just do everything you are told.
The people who would come back to me with a thoughtful proposal for what to do and in what order, that would be good for the business, and doable for the team, were the ones who stood out as high performers.
Keep a list of everything your boss asks for. Keep a list of the top strategic priorities you are working on. Have regular meetings with your boss where you take out these lists. Make recommendations about what to prioritize, based on the context of business and the content of these two lists.
They are those few things that have a bigger impact on the business than anything else. No matter what, these must get done. Ruthless Priorities are those few things that you refuse to put at risk.
Being ruthless elevates the truly critical stuff above the really important stuff.
He was able to succeed on a key project that opened up a new revenue stream for the business. He created success where it really counted because he gave himself enough bandwidth to do a great job on the most important thing first.
Ruthless Priorities always start with the business objectives. You need to educate yourself on what the business values. Whatever is happening in your functional area must be considered in the context of what is most important to the business overall.
Being really clear about the business impact of your work is the context and the backdrop for adding more value.
Here’s a trick: If you only think about why things are important, you will always be stuck thinking everything is important. Try another approach. Ask your team, “How bad is it if we fail?” You will then see an actual priority emerge.
You have to choose. Select one to three (no more than five) initiatives or tasks that support what matters most to the business. These are your Ruthless Priorities.
You need to go to your boss and sell him on the idea of why it is so important that the top few things you have identified can’t fail.
You need to inspire him with your plan to overachieve on them and why it matters. Once you do that, you can show him the rest of the list and get his agreement to support you if those less-critical things get done more slowly or at a lower level of excellence.
This is how you keep your boss from continuing to pile things on. Get him on the hook for the same critical business outcomes—your Ruthless Priorities.
You need to stay on course, because if you don’t, you will just go back to lots of activity and not doing a great job at anything in particular. And you will have lost ground on all the other most important things.
KEY INSIGHT: You can get away with not achieving everything if you deliver remarkable results on the few key things. But if you don’t actually achieve your Ruthless Priorities, you then have no success to offset why you didn’t do better at everything else.
Don’t lose your nerve. Stick to it. If you’re tempted to work on everything because it feels less risky, just realize that you will remain unremarkable because you have not given yourself the opportunity to really excel on something that has a big impact on the business.
You need to communicate your Ruthless Priorities over and over and over again.
You need to let people know you are serious. You cannot possibly overcommunicate your Ruthless Priorities.
There is a well-tested marketing principle that says that for your audience to understand your message well enough to act on it, they must hear or see your message seven times. And for every one time they consciously see it or hear it, they have to be exposed to it three times, thus, the “21-Times Rule.”
Be unfailingly consistent. Only when you are mind-numbingly bored with talking about your Ruthless Priorities will your organization really know you are serious and feel confident about acting on them.
Also, if you are known for delivering, you have a lot of power. You will have built-in support when things don’t go exactly according to plan. They will trust that you will finish what you say you are doing and then be able to get the next thing done. This is having real power in an organization.
Identifying and sticking to Ruthless Priorities is one of the hardest things you need to do. Not only is no one giving you permission to focus, but people—maybe even your boss—are mostly fighting against you.
But you must focus. If you don’t, you will work very hard but fail to deliver significant business outcomes. So you will fail. This is one of those lonely leadership moments. All leaders face this. The most successful ones get on top of it. They rise above the work.
You are expected to tune the workload, to change the game, to figure out better ways to do things. You need to show your executive management why some things are more important than others, and then to deliver on the right ones.
It is a core trait of the most successful people to rise above being overbusy.
You will increase the capacity of your team greatly if you simply communicate better.
Maximizing your energy is not optional. If you want to succeed as a leader, you need to drive big, creative outcomes in the business. You simply can’t do this with low energy. So it’s very important to understand what gives you energy and what drains it, and to have a plan to do more of the energy-building stuff and less of the energy-draining stuff on purpose.
KEY INSIGHT: If you play to your core strengths, you will be much more successful (because you are using your strengths) and feel far more satisfied in your work (because you are using your strengths).
The first and biggest hazard of taking your strengths for granted is that you waste too much time trying to fix your weaknesses.
KEY INSIGHT: You need to find the essence of WHY you are good at what you are good at. This is where the real you comes in.
KEY INSIGHT: You have the power to renegotiate the contract of your work to better suit your strengths.
Building on her analysis and writing strengths, she was able to add real value to the business by creating infrastructure, processes, and efficiencies.
By building on his people strengths, he enabled the business to achieve significant outcomes on the biggest, messiest programs that required lots of hand-holding and finesse with vendors and clients. And over time he was able to spend less time in the weeds personally.
you are being valued as a workhorse, not as leader to be promoted.
you need to work on the right things, in the right ways, and at the right level if you want to get ahead.
The reason you are not getting anywhere as a workhorse is that you are working the wrong way. You are keeping yourself too busy to add value to the business over and above your personal work output.
Leaders emerge because they are seen to get the work done through their leadership, not by their personal effort.
by demonstrating his ability to get his arms around the crisis, create systems, and continue to improve the result while spending less and less personal time at it, he became recognized as an effective leader and manager—someone who could take on bigger things without getting fully consumed.
you need to think about how to get the work done in a way that doesn’t fully consume you.
When you start your thinking, a good place to get started is to look for low-value, time-consuming activities. Identify your most soul-sucking, chaotic, or repetitive work activities. These are the workhorse traps. Use your thinking time to make it a point to either avoid them or to fix them on purpose.
KEY INSIGHT: I say “temptation” because staying in workhorse mode is, in many ways, easier than putting in the extra effort and strategic thought to change the way you work. It takes real commitment and effort to create a new way of working and to
take the necessary risks to negotiate a new way of working.
I have seen many people who have remained in workhorse mode for many years. The longer you stay there, the more likely you are to get stuck there because it becomes what you are known for.
The ghost of workhorse future: “Make a change now so you don’t end up here!”
KEY INSIGHT: No one cares how hard you work. It’s about results. Not taking vacations is not something to be proud of nor is it a precursor to great success. This is really only a sign of being so out of control at work that you are demonstrating you are someone who can’t plan and prepare enough to take a week off.
To break out of workhorse mode, you need to invent systems and processes that use less of your personal time to handle the work. Show that you can get the work done. But also show that you can free yourself from being overwhelmed by the work. When you get above the work to do higher-value things, this is when you will get noticed.
Your value is in developing strategy, people, and teams, not in delivering the work personally.
If you don’t start to associate your value with the higher-level managerial and leadership work, you will automatically gravitate back to the detail, because that is where you feel the value is. You’ll keep working at the wrong level, and you’ll fail to do an effective job as a leader.
KEY INSIGHT: You don’t need to know everything you used to know about the content and the detail. In fact, even trying to know as much as your people do about the guts of the work will block your success as a leader.
Remember, no one cares how hard you work. It’s about business outcomes. Your value now is about how well you perform your new leadership responsibilities.
Part of working at the right level is always to turn detail into higher-value information.
if you simply get detail from your team and then you share it with your boss, you are working at the wrong level.
You need to be prepared emotionally for not being the expert any more and for finding your value elsewhere. You need to earn your team’s respect with your leadership skills, not by trying to stay as smart as they are on the detail.
But because I was someone who was driven to add value, right out of the gate in my management career I was forced to find ways to work at the right level, to add value to the organization and the business, completely over and above the work that was being done in my organization. I had to quickly learn how to delegate without understanding the content, adding value personally, or losing control of the outcomes.
There is really important and valuable management stuff to be done once you rise above the work.
If you are getting work from your team that is not good enough, it is up to you to pull your people up, not to take over and redo it yourself.
If you keep coming to the rescue—working evenings and weekends—you’ll never get your hire approved. You’ll only be proving that you don’t really need that hire. And by the way, you are slipping into workhorse mode, working at the wrong level, and failing to build a capable team.
Being so hands-off in particular areas sends really weird signals to your team. They think the things you meddle in are important to you and the things you don’t meddle in are not.
Another pitfall of delegating is not closing the loop on what you assigned and letting expected milestones go by unmet, without consequences, or get completed, without recognition. You need to let people know you are serious about commitments.
Your team will survive; they will step up and deliver. If you are always available, though, you will always get sucked in.
KEY INSIGHT: Standout leadership is not just accepting the team you inherited; it is building a team capable of working at a higher level. There is really no gray area here.
KEY INSIGHT: Your high-performing team would not necessarily be a high-performing team for a different leader who has different natural strengths and experience gaps. Every time you step into a role as a leader, you need to build your team.
No matter what your role, think of your job as taking low-value, repetitive, reactive work out of the system by building systems and processes to make room for high-value work. Think about which activities suck up most of your time and create a process to streamline them.
Every time something happened in the product line that I thought would be useful or important for the field to know, I wrote up a Gold Sheet on it and sent it out—probably two per week on average.
KEY INSIGHT: If you can create systems and processes to work more efficiently and effectively, you’ll not only get the work done, but you’ll also be seen as a leader who can prioritize, rise above the tactics, and build value in the business, rather than a known workhorse who can personally handle a virtually unlimited amount of work.
Today I would use a blog to do this. As a product manager, I would have a sales support blog where I would regularly post updates and news to help sell the product. The great part is that sales reps could also share their experiences about what worked and didn’t, so they could also learn in the moment from each other’s best practices.
Make the copy more engaging to read. Make what you offer better, make the call to action easier, make the landing page more convenient and compelling, make the follow-up more focused, make the product better!
When you start a new job, you almost always see ways that the last guy was wasting time and money and not being as effective as you will be. So you be the new guy. Step into your own job anew, find all the stupid stuff you are doing, and improve
You Are Either Building or Destroying Trust; There Is No Neutral
high-trust environment is a fast, competitive environment. A low-trust environment is a slow, dysfunctional environment.
If your clients trust you They will buy more stuff. They will buy more quickly. They will recommend you to others.
When leaders are being true to themselves, it’s really obvious—it can’t be faked. Think about leaders and political figures you have seen. The ones who are being real people leap out from the crowd of their peers and competitors. They inspire people.
Being a whole person; sharing what you really care about, your values, your struggles; talking about things that actually mean something to you and why this business matters to you personally—all these things build trust.
Be yourself. You will be much more consistent and build much more trust.
If you are not sharing openly what you know, if people never hear any insights or thoughts from you about the business, and you don’t take time to share what you are thinking, their confidence and trust in you will go down. Remember, there is no neutral.
the more you communicate, the more comfortable people will be with what you are saying.
Humans work for more reasons than money—and money is not even at the top of the list. What is at or near the top of the list for people is to feel like their work matters, that it counts for something. This is a big trust issue. They are trusting you to make sure their work matters.
One of your most important tasks as a leader is to remove uncertainty. Uncertainty degrades trust. If your company is fuzzy about what its strategy is, it’s really hard for people to understand whether their work matters or not. It is really demotivating for people to deliver work into a strategic black hole. It degrades trust. It’s like throwing their robots directly into the trash can.
Sadly, I have often seen managers who feel threatened by smart people and squash or limit them in an attempt to appear more qualified themselves. This destroys trust and keeps them from delivering at the level they need to. Ultimately, they lose the game and get moved out of the way.
Credibility gives you both a time advantage and a trust advantage. It helps you get more done, go faster, and avoid stupid questions and the need to endlessly defend your honor. It helps you attract top talent, money, and the best projects. Credibility makes you more effective.
It all starts with exceptional results and then creating positive visibility for those results. LOOK Better builds on DO Better.
The most important factor in building your credibility is to make sure that your work is highly relevant to the business. It’s up to you to connect the dots between what you do and what matters to the business.
You always need to ask, what successful business outcome did my work create or enable? Did my work bring in new revenue? Did it take cost out? Did it find a new market? Did it close a competitive gap? Did it help us go faster? Did it build a team capable of winning or enabling new business? Did it create a product or service that customers love and pay for?
Organize your ideas, proposals, and initiatives with labels and headings that comprise only their words describing their initiatives. Use this technique to develop your “outside voice.” Then, when you talk about your work, they will be associating you and your work with the things they already want and care about.
strident advocacy for your function in the absence of a larger business context can degrade your credibility. You need to show that you can think like a general manager about the whole business and put the business first, at the center of your thinking and
You can build credibility by getting famous internally for being business minded and for personally helping with brilliant and creative cost management that doesn’t sacrifice value.
Doing your job well, as defined, keeps you from getting fired. What makes you stand out is finding additional ways to add value to the business over and above what is in your job description. Otherwise, you are just one more person doing what is expected of them.
Nothing will make you stand out more than having a direct effect on revenue.
Make sure your hard work is recognized. You need to be the one to demonstrate why your results matter and how valuable they are to the business. Connect the dots for people. Make sure the points actually make it onto the scoreboard. Otherwise your hard work will just be absorbed and largely unappreciated by your company, and you will continue to waste precious time defending your decisions, resources, and career.
Just as a corporate brand is defined by customers’ experience with the company, your personal brand is defined by people’s experience with you.
a strong brand builds loyalty and support).
When you let people know what to expect from you because you behave consistently, you build up credibility and trust with them. And if you break that consistency, you destroy trust, you lose credibility, and you dramatically weaken your brand.
Your personal brand will uniquely describe you. It will be based on who you really are, what you are naturally good at, and what you really care about. Your brand will incorporate your core strengths and values. It will be a description of your best self.
You can’t fake being who you really are. When people see that you have the guts to show who you really are, they respect you even more as their leader.
your personal brand is about being straightforward, frugal, or no-nonsense, there is no reason on earth that you can’t have basic, classic clothes that fit you really well.
To stay on a forward course in your career, and to be effective in general, you need to have visibility and support beyond your team and your direct boss. You need people above and around you to see you as someone who matters. When the world gets complicated, you need them to advocate for you or to come to your defense; otherwise you can get burned.
Your influencers are a bit less clear. These are the people you are not directly connected with but who still have a say in what happens to you. Your boss’s peers and your boss’s boss are good examples. You have two choices: 1. Leave their perceptions of you to chance. 2. Proactively communicate with them and manage what they know you for. KEY INSIGHT: Leaving the perceptions of stakeholders and influencers to chance is one of the mistakes that can completely block your career from advancing—really. Focus on this before you feel like you need to.
KEY INSIGHT: The trick is to create that opportunity in your own company. Create opportunities to sell yourself to the decision makers in your company. This doesn’t always happen naturally. No one may line this up for you. It is up to you to create that opportunity.
You need to be thought of as better than your peers.
KEY INSIGHT: If you want that job, you need your boss and your boss’s peers to think you are the best candidate.
Frequently, the most capable person was immediately disqualified simply because no one knew him. The conversation quickly centered on the people who were known.
It’s about results first, not visibility without results. (This is how you make sure you are not annoying.)
I am suggesting that you deliver excellent results but then don’t forget to let the world know what you have done. The full impact of your good work on the business and on your career progress will be lost if you remain invisible.
In fact, you are building genuine value by getting yourself and your team on the radar screen. It’s not just about pay raises and promotions. People with high positive visibility have high credibility, and they get all the benefits we’ve discussed—better projects, more resources, more support for who they get to hire, and better cooperation from other teams. So they get better business results.
I suggest creating an actual communication plan to ensure that you communicate with your stakeholders and influencers. You can use this simple worksheet to get started.
For each stakeholder and influencer, think specifically about what their goals and desired outcomes are. When they come to work in the morning, what do they care about most urgently? What keeps them up at night? How does what you do translate to meeting their desired outcomes?
Be sure to fit your communications into their context and be sensitive to the scope of what they worry about.
I have found that with high-level executives you can build credibility just by requesting a short meeting. I request seven minutes and get it done in five. You will get noticed for your precision, and if you get it done on time, you may be invited to stay longer. Either way, the executive will love you for being brief and to the point.
Think about the outcome of getting visibility with this person. What do you want to happen? What do you want them to know or think about you and your team and your work? The intersection of what is relevant to them and your desired outcome will define the strategy and the content of your communication with them.
Think about what you want to accomplish and what their needs, interests, and communication styles are, and then structure a communication plan to get in front of your key audiences on a regular basis.
In my case, after not getting my pay raise because “nobody knew me” (as described back in the Introduction), I created a goal of having people know me and recognize the great work my team was doing. My communication plan had three major components: 1. Get personal introductions to stakeholders across the company. 2. Get personal introductions to influencers across the company. 3. Publish a brief written report each month that gets my name and the accomplishments of my team in front of a wide audience on a regular basis.
briefness and regularity of it scored me some points for being credible and trustworthy.
Being proactive about your stakeholder communication plan sets you up for greater success, both in doing your current job and getting the next one, and provides vital insurance against getting blacklisted or run over the next time the organization changes. KEY INSIGHT: Don’t be invisible because you are too busy doing good work to share it!
As an executive, you don’t get a lot of thank you for doing something great emails—a few a year, maybe. This is a fantastic way to get your name in front of an influencer in a really positive way. They will most likely write you back and thank you for your message. You have then made a connection. If your boss finds out and says, “I told you that I forbid any contact whatsoever,” you can respond by saying “because it was just a thank-you, not related to the business, I didn’t realize you needed to approve it.” But at that point you’ve already made your connection!
The really hard part here is making the time to do this. This is an area I struggled with early in my career because the tasks involved to communicate with stakeholders never seemed as urgent or important as the tasks to deliver the work I was on the hook for.
Then we have the conversation about the fact that they failed to build a network of support above and around them in the company. No one was watching out for them or advocating for them. After you suffer a loss or a big setback, it becomes more personal—and much more obvious—that you need to make the effort to communicate with stakeholders. So you finally move it to the front burner. Try to prioritize this before you get screwed. It’s worth it.
To put yourself in a position to even get an opportunity to sell your ideas, you must deliver excellent outcomes on the most important things, as we talked about in DO Better, and you need to build credibility and relevance. This is the hard, foundational work you need to do in order to earn the right to sell your ideas to the decision makers and influencers inside and outside your company.
Don’t just stand up in front of a room. Decide how you want to be perceived. Plan how you communicate on purpose to be engaging. It’s not just about being showy or a naturally great speaker. It’s about being clear and being yourself. If you are thoughtful and reserved, you can still have a compelling presence and be really clear and motivating about what you are talking about if you do it on purpose.
It’s a valuable insight: think of any communication as an opportunity to perform. And I don’t mean a showy, disingenuous performance or one lacking in either data or quality. I mean a performance that is compelling because you really care about it and you invest in how you present, not just what you present, because it matters to you personally to have an impact.
This is one of those things that really sets high achievers apart. They have the ability to inspire others with their ideas—to cause motion and action with their words. They invest in the performance.
I’m not suggesting that you skip the data and put on a song-and-dance show instead of managing the business. But you can get a lot further with your stakeholders if you take responsibility and excite them with the right images and stories instead of only boring them with a straightforward presentation of data, progress, and plans.
One good story can be worth a thousand spreadsheet cells.
You need visibility with upper management but you need to also recognize that once you are visible, you are being judged really harshly.
When you are standing there in the front of the room with your newfound visibility, know that half of each stakeholder’s brain is paying attention to your content, and the other half is going into a fairly harsh judgment of you. And that judgment is this: is this person any good?
If your content is good and you make a strong personal impression, they will be thinking, “YES! This is important work, and this is someone to watch—someone we should ultimately promote.”
You need to put as much thought into how you will deliver your presentation as you do about what is in your presentation. The quality of the content counts, but the following things count too—a lot: Are you being clear, succinct, and compelling? Have you tuned the presentation to be highly relevant to each audience? Do you get to the point? Are you sure you are not boring? Have you made sure you won’t be tempted to go on and on about details? Do you show strong personal presence? Do you show confidence rather than defensiveness? Can you deal with disagreements and attacks and not get drawn off track? Can you field questions succinctly and not get nervous? Can you continue to be succinct and not babble on and on when you get drawn off topic? Can you regain control of the conversation?
It doesn’t matter how you sell your idea as long as it gets sold and you are viewed favorably.
Here is a checklist of tips that stack the deck in your favor: 1. Plan and practice your opening line. Think about your audience and what they care most about. Know what words they use to describe what they care about. Use their words, not yours. Make sure that you have an opening line that connects with what they specifically care about, and rehearse it. 2. Don’t bury the lead in your presentation. What is most interesting, exciting, or important? The brilliant archaeology of how you got there doesn’t matter—put it in your backup material. 3. If you have slides, rehearse an opening line and a closing line for each slide—actually write them and build a practice version of your presentation, with the slides that precede and follow each slide with your key point on them. Step through the presentation, making only the key, take-away points. 4. Be prepared for naysayers, questions, and getting thrown off track. Practice responses to the worst, most challenging questions you can think of. Have a prepared approach to deal with people who are taking shots at you. 5. Give your audience very clear choices and make it really easy for them to do what you need them to do. 6. Be memorable. Find a funny story or a personal relatable connection with your audience. This can be at the beginning, middle, or end as it suits your desired outcome and content. 7. The big finish. Make sure you ask for something specific when you close. Point people in the direction of action and seal the deal. Get a commitment for the next step. Always end with action.
Don’t get too hung up on your content and your agenda. If you walk into a room full of people who are asleep after lunch in a boring all-day meeting, your “lead” is to wake them up! If you are in a room full of skeptics, your lead is to create a bridge. If you are in a room full of strangers, your lead is to build their confidence in you. Once you have done that, your next statement should be the most compelling point in your argument.
They confuse sounding smart with being smart. They confuse sounding smart with taking action. They confuse sounding smart with adding value. And after talking to them, you are left wondering what happened or what is expected to happen next.
Be on the lookout for people who want to talk without ever getting to the so, here’s what we DO part.
“We are discussing achieving specific outcomes and planned actions; do you have a recommendation?” Don’t tolerate smart talk instead of action.
Present actionable information. For example, don’t talk about needing data on something. Ask questions like, “What decisions will you be making based on this data?” or “What action do you need this data to inform?” Then do the analysis, present the actionable answer, and offer the data as backup.
The more you are known for clearly communicating, focusing on action, and actually taking action, the more credibility you will build.
It actually takes some real discipline to get in the habit of selling, performing, and motivating instead of just talking or presenting. It takes a lot more thought and planning on the front end, and it takes guts.
You need to be willing to put yourself out there and engage people with enthusiasm. It might feel strange. It probably feels safer to just keep it low key and communicate the facts.
Getting help will give you an advantage. It will widen your margin of success over those who fail to seek it out or either don’t recognize it or refuse it when it’s offered. The more help you get, the more successful you will be.
Mentors help you DO Better, LOOK Better, and CONNECT Better. This is one of the most important topics in this book.
You are not expected to know everything. But you are expected to deliver. Those are two very different things.
The more people you can go to for information, the bigger your fund of knowledge. So you can solve harder problems, learn best practices, and get inspiration for innovations.
Mentors can challenge you and help you see how you should be making your job bigger, driving transformations, conceiving new opportunities, and developing your team.
It’s easy to get so tied up in your current work that you can lose sight of the reality of changing attitudes, business conditions, or the market landscape. Mentors can help you see the things you are not seeing, navigate the land mines, work through unspoken rules, and keep you connected to reality, inside and outside the company, so you never get blindsided.
It’s also really important to have a mentoring relationship with someone like your boss’s boss, or your boss’s peers.
If you can establish a mentoring relationship with someone in this circle, this is big-time extra credit. You will have a much better chance of being recognized and rewarded for your work because you have a high-level influencer in your corner who knows you well and is motivated to help you.
Your manager should be able to suggest likely mentors for you. When you have no idea how to do what you have been asked to do, ask your manager, “Do you know anyone who has done a similar project you could connect me with? I’d like to get some ideas and best practices.” This works; try it!
Another unspoken reality is one of the biggest factors people look for when promoting people to high-level positions: how much support they have. The higher you go, the more you need the support of others. As you advance, success becomes less about what you yourself can do and more and more about what you can accomplish through others. As an executive, your value is largely associated with your network, and your effectiveness is tied to the power of your network.
I have seen many people get turned down for executive roles because they couldn’t show that they had a strong enough network of mentors and an extra team inside and outside the company they could tap into for connections and help. These are fundamental qualifications for a job at the executive level.
Most of the power from networking actually comes from keeping in touch with the people you already know.
One basic truth about what I refer to as “authentic networking” is that networking is actually about giving, not taking.
The Trick to Authentic Networking: Give when you don’t need anything. Take less than you give—always.
I know some really effective salespeople who start every single meeting this way, asking, “Before we get on with the agenda for our meeting, what is going on with you, and how can I help you?”
KEY INSIGHT: The people you are close to are not always very useful to help you because they tend to be in the same environments, know the same people, and think similarly to you. Whereas your weak connections have access to different stuff!
[read an article, saw a panel discussion, listened to a webcast]
where you [did something, said something]. I was very interested in [a comment about something you were actually interested in]. The reason I was so impressed was [insert a real reason]. I thought I would connect with you and let you know you had [some sort of positive impact on me]. If there is ever anything I can do to be of service to you, please let me know.
Be clear about this: you build your network by giving; you use your network by taking.
KEY INSIGHT: The more specific you can be, the easier it is for people to help you. It seems counterintuitive, but the specifics are what help trigger people’s thoughts of where the connections are.
Why some get their breakthrough comes down do two things: imagination and fearlessness. The combination of these two things is what allows those who make it to get beyond what every human faces from time to time—lack of confidence.
Here is the trick: fearlessness first.
INSIGHT: You first need to get yourself there. Once you are there, learn really fast, do the job, and get more comfortable and confident as you go. Then leap again.
You can have a good career without doing this, but if you aspire to big things or the top jobs, you can’t get there without putting aside your confidence issues and just doing it anyway. If you are smart, you will catch up with your leap. I promise. I’ve done this with pretty much every job transition I’ve made.
The ones who step up and go for things are the ones who get them. The ones who are fearless get there faster.
Looking back on all my biggest, scariest transitions, in each case I had a mentor telling me I should go for it (putting it in my imagination) and telling me I could do it (encouraging my fearlessness).
They are excited about the ideas of others and are generous with appreciation, credit, and praise. This generosity and acknowledgment makes people want to help them. So they have a wider and much steadier source of good ideas than people who either don’t think they can learn from others or refuse to acknowledge when they do.
Start conversations assuming you know less than the other person. Even if you are certain that you know more, take some time to listen anyway.
This is another reason why it is so important to build your credibility and relevance, and put yourself in a position to sell your ideas as we talked about in the LOOK Better part of the approach.
Drive real change. Add real value. Don’t wait to be asked. Imagine it, and do it.
As people step up to higher-level roles, there is an outright expectation that they will not just do the job as it stands today. They will understand where the business needs to go, and they will reinvent the job to get there.
KEY INSIGHT: What you need to know is how to manage these functions, not how to do them. You need to be able to set and lead the agenda for business growth. You need to make tradeoffs between those functions, not within them.
people who have had responsibility for making the business happen directly with customers are transformed—they have a sense of reality that does not exist for people who have spent their whole career at headquarters.
Spending time with people at their jobs is critical. Find out what it is really like to work at that level. Here are some questions to ask them: What do you think it takes to be good at this job? What do you think is the hardest part? What is the most challenging issue? What corporate issue, rule, or program is most annoying to you? What business drivers do you react to first? What business drivers do you affect directly? What is the biggest problem you have overcome? How do you set goals for your team? How do you find stars and identify low performers? What do you seek to learn about the competition? Where do you invest to add value or extra quality? Where do you cut cost to drive efficiency? How do you communicate with your organization? What are the most important peer relationships? What has worked well in leading a team of this size? What has not worked? What would you do differently if you had the chance? What best practice have you discovered that you can share? How does your organization deal with changes in course? How do you process direct feedback from customers? How do you interact with the sales force? What does the CFO bug you about? What are the things you would like to fix but can’t get to? What elements of what you do drive revenue, cost, and profitability? What elements of what you do, do other organizations depend upon? What do you believe you should stop doing but are forced to continue? What do you believe you should start doing but can’t get support for?
This is the job I ultimately want. I have been learning about it. I know this person who is in this job and I would like to offer to help him to do X as part of my development. Can I get your support?
If you appear overwhelmed in what you are currently doing, you are by definition showing that you are not ready for a bigger job.
The things that made you successful in the past are, by definition, things that are at the “wrong level” for the new job.
KEY INSIGHT: Everyone interviewing for the job will have the job skills. What makes you special? What values drive you to do what you do really well? What is at the essence of what you have done well over and over again in every job that you have
Your experience and skills become progressively less important because the big jobs are about leading and motivating people and creating an environment where your team can thrive—not doing the work personally. If you talk too much about your skills, you will wash out.
Cool, thoughtful, in control: you are a well-rounded human, highly competent, ready for a bigger job, and with a life outside the office.
Sticky: I have an unusual combination of strengths. I am both highly analytical and hugely action oriented. I can analyze a lot of information quickly, but then I’m driven to act—not to get more data. This has always been true about me. An interesting example: In college, I created and ran a
children’s marine science competition.…
P&L Impact: It’s not that you ran marketing and generated leads. It’s that you saw an opportunity in the market, and you proposed a new business initiative to go after
you must understand what the leadership and managerial tasks are at the higher level, and you need to be really clear about what you will do, emphasize, value, and measure.
If there is any secret weapon in your quest to be the one who wins the job, it’s to start doing the job before you are in it—not just similar tasks at this level, but the actual job. Do your first month on the job before you get to the interview. Learn everything you can about the company, the people, the competition, the customers, and the market. Go into your interview with your deliverables: An assessment of the current state Challenges and opportunities A desired outcome description of the organization’s future state A straw-man list of strategic priorities Key initiatives to fill the gap A list of problems to be solved A list of key communications necessary to support the work
It doesn’t matter how open the decision-making process appears to be. If you are not on the List, you will not be considered.
If you never stake a claim and stand up for what you want, people won’t guess, and they won’t automatically associate your general greatness with a specific role.
Really think about what you want to make sure happens in your life. That is the root of your true desired outcome.
The more clear you can be about your true desired outcome, the more clear you can be in the moment about whether or not you are wasting your time.
Build your plan to DO Better, LOOK Better, and CONNECT Better to win one of these jobs.
You will find that you get to spend about a third of your time on what the job description says you should be doing—growing the business. The balance of your time will be divided among defense, communications, and wasted time: Defense: Justifying budgets and strategies, dealing with peer attacks, customer escalations. Communications: Representing the business to partners, customers, industry analysts, media, and Wall Street. Regular internal communications to keep employees informed, aligned, and motivated is also critical. Wasted time: Lots of meetings, travel, dealing with HR problems, reorganizations, strategy changes, budget cuts, and rework.
If leading a very large organization does not seem very interesting to you, or these downsides seem horrific, or both, you will struggle in an executive role. Is what you really want the executive job, or do you just want the executive pay? If, however, these challenges seem like a doable reality, or even a fun challenge, an executive job could be a good fit for you.
Successful executives are masterful at coming across as confident and informed, but it is not because they know everything. It’s because they are good at bluffing.
The path to success is to retain your composure, make the best comment or decision you can with the data you have at the time, and rely on smart people around you to fill in as many gaps as possible.
Bluffing is just another example of why being an executive takes a fair amount of guts, and you need to be OK with the fact that from time to time you are going to be scared and way out of your comfort zone. That is a requirement of the job—get comfortable with it.
Your net ability to help other people goes way up if you take care of yourself.
Successful, good leaders are very smart, and they have good emotional intelligence—but not necessarily more than you. What they have is more and different experience, a supportive network, and access to opportunities.
As long as you demand rigorous accountability to the business and measure and manage performance accordingly, you can be nice to people. Kind to people; hard on results.
I am a firm believer that growing businesses come from growing people, and to be highly successful, you need to make the people supporting you successful too. It’s not just about the money. Everyone wants to be effective, relevant, and satisfied in their work. Your career and business success will come from helping others achieve theirs.