From Great to The Greatest
By Marty NemkoAdvice on how to succeed is ubiquitous. There’s even that book, From Good to Great.
But how do you go from great to The Greatest: the revered, the preeminent, the legendary.
It’s not easy, but if you have the potential for preeminence, I believe that--in almost any field-- striving for preeminence is the wisest path to the life well-led:
You must work long and smart. The Greatest know that there’s 60+ hours a week of work that shouldn’t be delegated. They decide it’s more important to do what it takes to, for example, create a world-class product or be a world-class physician than to have dinner with their family every night.
You needn’t be a risk-taker. No matter how long and smart you work, bold innovation usually requires you to be lucky. A surer route to preeminence may be to be an incrementalist who executes magnificently.
You must be inspirational. How?
§ Be like Barack Obama: enthusiastic without ever seeming out of control. Americans dislike both impassivity and hyperenthusiasm. Remember Howard Dean’s war whoop? That one second killed his presidential chances.
§ Your efforts to persuade should often include powerful anecdotes. Tell stories as an actor would, but as actor Spencer Tracy said, “Never let ‘em catch you acting.”
§ Smile. That seems shallow and it is, but most people react much better to someone whose default expression is pleasant and who not-infrequently smiles broadly and laughs. Bonus: You’ll find yourself feeling more positive.
§ Be as encouraging as you can without being dishonest.
Take the time to hire only A players. If you’ve guessed wrong, quickly cut your losses. Studies find (and logic confirms) that time spent remediating weak employees is more wisely spent elsewhere. Don’t let emotions keep you from doing the right thing. There’s room in the world for B and even C players, but not working for The Greatest. They’ll be happier and more successful in a workplace with other average performers--and they won’t drag down your A workers and the quality of what you produce.
Get feedback from A players. Whether you’re about to give a talk, submit an article, make a strategic move, or develop your annual goals, solicit candid feedback from A players and/or people in your target market. Accept or reject their input on the merits. The Greatest reject feedback as well as accept it.
Be a master communicator:
§ Speak in the most pleasant part of your vocal range. To hear what’s most appealing, record your voice at the top, middle, and bottom of your range.
§ Be brief: 10-60 seconds per utterance. That doesn't overwhelm the listener. For example, if you’ve said something in the first few seconds that your listener wants to ask about, he’s forced to listen to (usually half-listen) to you prattle on for what seems like forever before he can ask his question--assuming he still remembers it.
§ Insert pauses in your utterances to give people time to assimilate what you're saying. After all, The Greatest say things worth chewing on. When you speak, you’re not spewing; you’re teaching.
§ When making a key point, increase volume and decrease speed.
§ Vary how intently you listen. The standard one-size-fits-all advice to always listen carefully is inappropriate for The Greatest. Yes, sometimes it’s worth listening with 100% focus, including reading the subtext. Other times, you can think about something more important, project forward, or interrupt:
§ Know when to interrupt. The standard advice to never interrupt is wrong. The Greatest recognize when the benefits of allowing the speaker to blab on are outweighed by the time saved and by ensuring you remember what you want to ask or say in response.
Be a master criticizer:
§ Criticize (and praise) as often as necessary to keep people growing without dispiriting them.
§ Ask permission before criticizing: "Would you mind if I offered a suggestion?"
§ Criticize so as to create the right amount of disequilibrium. Usually, you’ll want to criticize in a way that preserves their self-esteem: "I'm wondering if it might be a good idea to (insert suggestion). What do you think?" But if that is unlikely to yield the necessary improvement (for example, if his self-esteem is higher than his merit,) you may need to calmly hit him between the eyes: “I’m not happy with this. Any explanation?” If the explanation is insufficient, say something like, “I need to see X, Y, and Z by 9 AM tomorrow.” And walk out.
Your spouse must support your commitment to being The Greatest. If you are to avoid burning out, your spouse must not expect you--after you’ve put in your high-powered 12-hour workday--to deal with life’s myriad pseudo-crises, for example: fighting with Johnny to do his homework, arguing with the kitchen remodeling contractor, or “processing” the emotional issue du jour. This, of course, applies to male as well as female spouses.
Is iIs it worth the effort to go from great to greatest? For me, whether or not I attain it, I believe the pursuit of preeminence is the key to a life of maximum meaning.
This column originally appeared on Kiplinger.com. Nemko also is Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News & WWorld Report. The San Francisco Bay Guardian named him, “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” 500+ of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com.
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