I’ve been working for 34 years now. I took time off to stay home with kids but, as anyone who’s been the primary caregiver for small children will tell you, that counts as work. And it turns out that in the 3rd decade, you develop a few maxims.
These are mine. I imagine you have yours. To be recited, either sotto voce during a long walk down the hall, or con brio to the assembled multitudes.
1. Always Be Closing
You can talk for 6 hours, eloquently, without any impact. Business is not art, not valuable in the ether. It’s a machine. Figure out the key things you and your group need to get done, and always be closing. This will require reminding people a lot, “And the point is?” Politely, of course. With small children this just means saying, “Shoes! Shoes! Shoes!” when it’s time to get into the car.
2. You Can Be Dumb And Nice, Or Mean And Smart, But Mean And Dumb Is Not OK
Seriously. We can all put up with nasties who deliver, if we have to. Witness Steve Jobs. We also have a soft spot for the slightly less competent, who smile and cheer us on our way. But if you’re going to abuse me with stupidity, I’m gone.
3. Half The Battle Is Showing Up Consistently
It’s great to be intelligent. Enjoy your smarts. But your value to others is directly diminished by how much time they spend waiting for you.
4. Concluding That It’s Someone Else’s Fault Teaches You Nothing. Corollary, Clean Up Your Own House First.
Sure, the other guy could be doing it all wrong. Sure, the problem may not be your fault. But you will never uncover that until you take a look at yourself, your team, and your department. Learn from even the most offbase accusers.
5. “Yes” Is The Best Way To Catch A Bad Actor
Let’s say someone’s pushing you to do something you think it misguided. As long as the downside is low, the best way to prove your point is to say “Yes.” Natural consequences are on your side. Plus, think of all the organizational capital you don’t have to use up in a fight. (Read this book. The concept is explained quite well.)
6. You Will Never Have Enough Information. Get Over It.
As a professor told us in business school, “You will be paid to make decisions under uncertainty.”
7. Treat The Information You Do Have With Great Care
Make sure you’ve modeled your decision well. This will often mean spreadsheets and I am the worst spreadsheeter known to mankind. However, it turns out that even a rough model, using guesses and assumptions, clears stuff up. As long as you use the same unit of measure and compare apples to apples. That said, people who know math are your friend. If you know it yourself, rejoice.
8. Replace Buzzwords With The Simplest Language Possible And You Cut Through Denial
Compare, “We have to optimize the conference logistics,” to, “We have to make sure nobody gets stuck in O’Hare.” Simple language leaves room for humor. “Because anyone who spends too much time in the Clanging Tunnel Of Gershwin will be useless the next day. Dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah.”
9. Always Be Closing. Don’t Be Afraid To Repeat Yourself.
All of the above requires persistence, in case I hadn’t made myself explicit. The only sure way to fail is to give up altogether.
Have a wonderful aimless weekend, retaining and restoring all tenacity for Monday. When you are likely to need it again.