How do winners act?

by Sam on November 16, 2010

A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.  ~Admiral Grace Hopper


One-Minute Answer:  Admiral Hopper could also have put it this way: “There are two kinds of people in the world—those who take action and those who don’t.”


The two preceding ASKs explained two-thirds of the advice given to a young manager by a senior partner of an eminent professional services firm. It was in response to the question, “What do I need to do to become a partner?” The partner’s answer was simply, yet profoundly, “Think, speak, and act like a partner.” We’ve been substituting winner for partner.


Over the last two weeks you learned how a winner thinks and speaks. Now discover how a winner acts.


Five-Minute Answer:  In this three-part series, this current message called for the least amount of research. It was born as I pictured in my mind’s eye all of the winners I’ve been privileged to work with. The following prescriptions emerge from what I observed those people doing to build solid alliances and leave indelible marks on their organizations.


Ten Ways to Build Alliances


1.   Meet people with a smile and a warm hello.  Those who best inspire, impress, and influence others are often among the most gracious people on the planet.

2.   Call people by name.  Use people’s names whenever you greet them and say good-bye to them. And when you use a name, make sure it’s the right name—the one the person wants you to use, pronounced accurately and spelled correctly.

3.   Show interest in others.  Ask them questions about themselves and remember the answers. Listen when they bring you their concerns, needs, or ideas. Prove that you listened by paraphrasing what they’ve told you. If you elect not to act on their requests, tell them why.

4.   Give others more credit than they deserve.  Since we reliably under-appreciate the contributions of others, the extra credit you believe you’re giving will often be right on.

5.   Accept more blame than you feel you should.  Since we rarely appreciate the role we’ve played in failures, the extra blame you believe you’re acknowledging will often be right on.

6.   Remain non-aligned.  Do not become identified exclusively with any particular block, profession, or social group. Spread yourself around in the company. Be a linking pin between special interests.

7.   Heal.  Bring people of diverse and even conflicting opinions together. Take a super-ordinate view of issues enabling you to help find creative solutions to meet both sides of what antagonists may see as incompatible positions.

8.   Serve.  Do so without reservation. Expect no return. Give your internal and external customers more than they expect.

9.   Save your anger for worthy causes.  Spend far more time in your head than in your stomach. Be a calming force during crises. But don’t stifle expressions of irritation that may be needed to shake others out of complacency.

10. Dissolve grudges.  Forgiveness releases you from negativity and the depressing effects of resentment.


Ten Ways to Make a Mark


1.   Point to a better tomorrow.  Be intolerant of “good enough.” Hold up an exciting vision for yourself and for the people you lead. Exude optimism about the future. Inject greater meaning into your work and theirs.

2.   Reject profit as a focus.  It’s an outcome. Let your focus instead be on teaching and coaching your people to do all the right things to make profit—or whatever your bottom line is—happen.

3.   Seek forgiveness rather than permission.  Winners comply with orders and rules, but they have the courage to take the path less travelled—and sometimes even walk past a “keep off the grass” sign when they know that’s best for the greater organizational good.

4.   Value agility over conformity.  When organizations grow in sophistication, size, and success, there is great temptation to focus on sustainability. And that can be a smart focus to have so long as it does not spawn bureaucracy that slows down responsiveness and spontaneity. Winners favor processes with a healthy balance of compliance and liveliness, but with a definite bias toward the latter.

5.   Become known by the company you keep.  Develop the people around you. Teach, coach, and mentor them. Delegate increasing level of responsibility to them. Keep your successor by your side.

6.   Find your 20%.  Pareto’s Law—the 80/20 rule—says that you create 80% of your impact as a leader with 20% of your activities, or 20% of your day. Winners have identified their 20% and take action to focus more there and less on the other 80% through delegation, automation, or elimination.

7.   Meet deadlines.  Keep a reliable calendar so you’re always where you need to be, at least five minutes ahead of schedule. Maintain an updated to-do list so as to fulfill obligations.

8.   Dwell on the gain, not the pain, in useful change.  People will present you with change that is harmful; it will violate your values, your principles, or even your faith. Resist such change with your total being. More often, the pain imbedded in change results from an introduction of a new order that exceeds the limits of your comfort zone. When that’s the case, force yourself to look into the future for the benefits almost certain to accrue once you get past your initial defensiveness.

9.   Appoint a “Board of Directors.”  Continually seek feedback on your performance, particularly from those you supervise, in ways that do not make them uncomfortable or make them feel threatened. At the same time, maintain a group of three to five higher ups that you can take that feedback to for perspective on the best ways to respond to it.

10. Strive for a more excellent way.  Here are three sure paths to higher ground. One, maintain humility, modesty, and meekness. Two, do the right thing—and only because it’s the right thing to do, not for any rationalization. Three, imitate admirable people who have already achieved goals like the ones you have set for yourself. This may have been the original meaning of think, speak, and act like a partner. It’s certainly what Ralph Waldo Emerson intended when he said, “Hitch your wagon to a star.”


Breakthrough!  Often in this final section, we challenge you to focus on the prescriptions you’re not following. Let’s go in a different direction. We’re a week away from Thanksgiving. Celebrate early by giving thanks for the ways you have been gifted with your strengths on these two lists. The people you work with appreciate them. You should, too!

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