Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ingredients for success



·        Each of the points below may not be applicable to everyone, but most, in some way or another, will be

·        They are ingredients for success not only in your career, but, more broadly, for anything that you do ( e.g., nonprofit work or any aspect of life)


Service:  Always remember you are in a service business, regardless of your industry.  Service means that you should return telephone calls promptly and complete assignments on time.  Service also means that you should make the client or fellow worker know that he or she is important.  Treat them as you would want to be treated.

·        Service is a relevant concept in almost anything that you do because no matter how high you rise in your job, or anything else, you are basically servicing someone else

·        Even as a boss, how you deal with someone under you is a reflection of who you are, so in that sense you have to think about servicing them

·        Service as a concept transcends looking at business as a service industry; it goes to a fundamental way of dealing with people.  Essentially, service is recognizing that everyone is equal and that you must treat everyone the way you would like to be treated

·        You get business by treating people with dignity and respect.  But service goes beyond winning business; it goes to achieving contentment in life

·        When you treat people with dignity and respect, and understand that you are there to service them, you will get it back and be a lot happier for it


Integrity:  People respect people with integrity.  People with integrity respect themselves.

·        Integrity is, essentially, doing the right thing, and at a big company like Lehman Brothers, integrity is the cornerstone of a good culture

·        Integrity is a sense that we are above simply "making a living," and in that sense it means turning down a profitable piece of business when the business is not the right thing to do

·        On a number of occasions at Lehman Brothers, when people have done things we were not comfortable with, even when they were big producers, we have let them go

·        In matters of integrity, you have to take a stand


Teamwork:  Teamwork means working with a client or fellow worker as a team member.  It is unbecoming to say negative things about your teammates.  Helping others will encourage others to help you.

·        At Lehman Brothers one of the reasons we are successful is that we are a firm of "we's" not "I's"

·        Individuals are very good at certain things, but there are gigantic gaps in our individual abilities.  If you are able to share things and work together as a team, you can get the best out of everyone – this is a very powerful thing

·        In terms of success, if you are a good team player, then others will be good back to you.  If you are selfish, then what goes around comes around

·        Therefore, to be successful you need to strive to be a good team player.  If it is not reciprocated, then that's the other person's problem

·        Companies that foster a positive team environment and that don't have a bunch of stars are more likely to be successful


Focus:  It is important that you work efficiently and that you are focused on a particular project.  Do not worry about extraneous elements that are not relevant to the particular project.

·        Focus and energy (the next ingredient) are best considered together

·        If you are going to be successful at something, you have to be focused on it

·        There are tricks to staying focused.  For example, a lot of successful people keep a clean desk, except for the one thing they are working on at that time.  This way there are no distractions so they can just focus on that one thing and be productive in that moment in time

·        Building structure into your life, even artificial rules like a clean desk, is a great way to improve focus

·        It helps to think of focus in terms of a laser versus a flashlight.  A laser that is directed will go very far.  With a flashlight, you may get a lot of light around you, but it won't go very far


Energy:  Whatever you do in life, you must put the time and effort into it to be successful. There is nothing like hard work.

·        Building off the flashlight analogy, energy is like the battery

·        In the working world, energy is how many hours you spend, and focus is how productive those hours are

·        Together, focus and energy are important to success because you need the focus to be productive and the energy ( i.e., time commitment) to make it work

·        However, focus and energy create a conundrum, namely that the more you focus and the more energy you commit to something, the more you do so at the exclusion of other things ( e.g., family, friends, other interests, etc.)

·        When you think about success as a broader concept than just "success at work," you have to be balanced

·        The only way to square this circle is through productivity.  If you are focused and productive, you can accomplish more in a shorter period of time than others can in a much longer period of time

·        People who are successful, in the broader sense, tend to work very hard to put structure in their lives in order to be focused and productive in the time they dedicate to something, so that they still produce quality work and have time for other things


Thoroughness:  If an answer comes easily, you should rethink it.  Thoroughness means being aware of the totality of an issue and thinking through the various contingencies.  Thoroughness does not mean writing long involved analyses, but rather thinking through all the issues that would be embodied in such analyses and presenting solutions in a clear, concise way.

·        Thoroughness separates the really great people from the not-so-great people

·        Thoroughness means that when you look at a problem, you don't just see the question that is asked, but that you look more broadly at the issue not simply to answer the question, but rather to really understand what you are dealing with

·        Understanding is basically learning, which is a great thing.  Every question is an opportunity to grow and become better because you are learning

·        It is important to be careful not to give immediate answers if you can avoid doing so.  Even when you think you have seen a lot of things a lot of times, everything has a nuance

·        Therefore, it is important to step back, think about things, do the work, make sure you understand and really get involved before providing an answer

·        People respect people who are really thorough, and they will listen to them because over time they will know that thorough people don't just say things unless they have done the work


Practicality:  Your job is not an academic pursuit.  You must understand your business, and your advice must be practical in the context of that business.  Practicality means that you must read newspapers.  It requires that you understand what your business or your client's business is trying to do and that you structure your advice around it.

·        While it is nice to think and dream in terms of theories, when it comes to servicing people, you need to be practical

·        Practical means solutions that are actually doable

·        Practical also means that you do things that make sense within the context of the event or circumstances


Ingenuity:  Perhaps a client might ask a specific question that would get "no" as an answer.  But maybe the client should have asked a different question.  You should find a way to get the economic result the client wants – even if the route is somewhat different from the implication of the question asked.

·        Ingenuity is about creativity and really understanding what a client or someone is trying to do

·        For example, they may be asking how to get from "a" to "b," when they really want to get to "c," but for whatever reason think they need to go to "b" first

·        Allow yourself the luxury of not being confined to "the rules" when you are thinking about something.  So many things can be done in ways much different from the way they are being done now

·        Think about what you want to accomplish, whether it is right or wrong morally, whether it is right or wrong for your client, how it can be done, and then, as an afterthought, fit in the rules (because at least in the case of the laws and regulations, you have to)


No Politics:  Do not get involved in office politics.  The most important thing is to do the work efficiently and well.  Quality work is the best political statement.

·        Office politics is a colossal waste of time

·        Ultimately what people want from other people in a business is for those people to make them look good and to make the firm look good

·        When you play politics, you will be wrong 50% of the time.  It takes a lot of time and energy, it's phony and it puts stress on you

·        If you catch yourself playing politics, stop it!  If you don't have something good to say about somebody, shut up (unless you are saying something directly to them as constructive criticism)

·        Never go out of your way to bad-mouth someone because it suits someone else or some political agenda.  It creates a bad environment that is not good to be in

·        Politics is not important.  Doing quality work is important – doing quality work is something you control and this puts you and your work in control of your destiny, rather than nonsense that doesn't pay the bills


Frankness:  You must be honest.  Do not try to fool people or give the answer they would like to hear unless you believe it.

·        It is important to tell people things the way in which you see them. This does not mean to be disrespectful

·        You gain a lot of respect just by being honest.   It doesn't mean you will always be right, but at least people will know you have no agenda

·        There is a premium on people who have no agenda but to do the right thing


Listen:  You must listen to what people say.  Ask questions when you do not totally understand what they say.  Follow up on what is said and sometimes, on your own time, you must learn about their issues.  The best time to give your view is after you thoroughly understand the problem.

·        Listening is hard because in the course of a conversation there are a million things going on:  concepts conveyed, how they perceive you, how they perceive your firm, nonverbal cues, etc.

·        A good listener is someone who is not afraid to ask the "stupid question."  It is almost guaranteed that someone else has that same question but is afraid to ask it.  At the end of the day, what matters is the quality of the work product, and if you go into something with unanswered questions, the work product won't be as good

·        A good listener also pays attention to nonverbal communication.  You should listen beyond the words spoken.  Open your eyes to the total communication (e.g., hand gestures, facial expressions, body language, etc.)


Confidence:  Views are received based upon the confidence that you have in the views given.  You must understand and totally believe in the advice before you give it, because recipients will be nervous if you show a lack of confidence.   The best way to be confident is to thoroughly understand the nature of the problem, the logic of the advice and how it fits into the needs of the business.

·        No matter how much you know about something, if you tell someone something and you are wishy-washy, they won't pay attention

·        The best source of confidence is really knowing what you are talking about (which goes to all the things in this list of ingredients), and after that you can work on your delivery

·        Confidence also goes to your mental health.   If you really know what you are talking about, you will have less stress


Read, Write and Speak:  Read to keep up with the business.  Write articles to learn new things that may be different from the problems that walk in the door.  Speak at conferences so that you develop speaking skills.

·        Not everyone is going to publish articles and books; however, reading, writing and speaking in some combination should be helpful to anyone

·        Writing things down in a serious way (e.g., publishing) is one great way to really understand and figure things out

·        Most problems in the workplace are things that come through the door; therefore, most of our knowledge is based upon random events or problems, and we develop ourselves randomly

·        Also, if you get something from a client, no matter how hard you try, you will always be biased and the problem comes packaged with narrower facts.  When you write or speak about something, you are looking at it in a much broader and unbiased way.  When you try to understand something objectively, with no agenda, you are much better off in terms of your knowledge base

·        Whether you do the above by reading, writing or speaking, the key is that it shouldn't be work.  It is important to have a thirst for knowledge outside of the random events that come at you in the workplace

·        Speaking at conferences has enormous benefits.   First, whatever you know gets advertised.  Second, you are forced to learn because you won't get in front of people without knowing what you are talking about.  Third, it is typically good for your firm to have people out there representing the firm.  Fourth, people (co-workers, potential clients, etc.) appreciate you doing these things (it is amazing how many thank you e-mails and requests for copies of your speech you will receive after a conference)

·        If you prepare for an event, spend time learning the topic and the event doesn't occur, you are still well ahead of the game because you have gained knowledge that will help you be better at what you do



·        All of the above are important in broadening you out and making you more efficient

·        If you know something well, then your productivity will go through the roof because you won't be examining this little thing or that little thing; you will know the context of it, and be able to look at something in a more focused and productive way

·        These points can apply to anything, including your personal life

·        Ultimately, success is having a life where you feel comfortable with who you are.  It is being respected as a person and not simply for the position you hold.  The points made here are a view of some of the ingredients that help make success possible.  The ultimate answer to being successful is not what others think of you, but what you think of yourself   




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