(Note: This is based on one of the prompts from Robert S. Kaplan’s book What You’re Really Meant to Do.)
I’ve had an incredible career. That’s indisputable, even if over the 19 years since I left college and started my first full time job there have been frustrations and setbacks. Life isn’t all sunshine and roses, so it’s unreasonable to expect that work experience would be any different.
While I may not have achieved earth-shaking accolades or be a highly in-demand TED talker or anything like that, I still consider my professional life to be a success based on two things: I’m still able to comfortably provide for my family and I’ve had the good fortune to have worked with some truly talented individuals.
Those people are too numerous to name or call out individually and I’d inevitably wind up leaving someone off the list. Instead today I’ll run down some of the attributes and characteristics of the people who I’ve been blessed to call colleagues. Those who know me and my network will be able to fill in many of the names without my help.
This is an area I have admitted issues with. I get passionate, I want to convince and convert, I want to jump up and point emphatically, I get my fur up easily. One person in particular showed me the value in staying calm, of never raising your voice, of always presenting a reasonable exterior and never getting riled. He’s unflappable to the point where I sometimes questioned whether he was breathing. But seeing him sitting across the table and taking it all in before offering a measured and logical response was admirable. I’ll continue to be passionate, but he showed me the value in taking a breath and maintaining a calm, cool exterior no matter what was flung at him.
Crawl, Walk, Run
A lot of people want to jump into a new plan not only with both feet but all the way up their hairline. One person, though, was careful about taking slow, measured steps when going down a new road. Instead of big, splashy changes, he wanted to make sure there was a plan. That not only protected himself but also me and my team as we could ramp up a program over time and make sure it fits well with what we currently doing, not an immediate burden that leads to other priorities being dropped. That’s a rare trait in these days of “fail quickly” but it’s one I’ve worked to adopt into my own approach and thinking.
Lead From The Front
This isn’t just one person, it’s many people I’ve known and worked with over the years. Too many individuals who have risen to acclaim in the social media/content marketing world have been figureheads who rely on junior staff or interns to do the scut work, even if the benefit is solely to one person’s reputation and brand. That’s categorically not the mindset of most of the people I’ve known. They do the work. They don’t sluff off responsibility to others and throw junior staffers under the bus at the first sign of trouble. They’re out at the front of the pack, exposing themselves to targeted fire and responsible for the approaches they recommend. The best part is they not only hold themselves accountable for failure but almost uniformly will then spread the praise for success to the team.
Always Ask Why
“Why?” is a question that’s too rarely asked in the business world. No one wants to challenge the boss or go against some kind of conventional wisdom that’s festered and built up internally. But it’s a question I learned early on was the most important one to ask. Especially in the early days of the industry, social media was often looped into marketing plans late in the game, after someone else had decided on an approach or tactic without consulting the experts. So the ability and courage to ask “Why?” were important to cultivate. I can’t begin to count the number of times something hasn’t survived this simple yet powerful test.
Follow The Rules
I’ve professionally matured in parallel to the overall online marketing industry. That means I and my colleagues, friends and coworkers were around when best practices were still being hashed out via blog posts and comments. Now many of those are entrenched in one way or another, either with professional organizations that have established codes of conduct or with Federal oversight groups who are regulating the industry. That doesn’t mean those rules and guidelines are always followed. Thankfully I’ve worked with many people who have been responsible for establishing those best practices and have learned from them, filling in gaps in my own knowledge as we go.
Always Have Numbers
If you’re going to make a recommendation, have the stats to back it up. Too often I’ve gone into situations with anecdotal evidence and my own gut feeling, expecting my soaring rhetorical skills to be proof enough of the rightness of my position. My experience with a few coworkers, though, has convinced me of the need to have numbers to support my opinions and feelings. Not only that, but the experience of being asked for numbers I didn’t have was enough to make me double-check that I had as much data as I could before going into a meeting. While I still often default to the “art” approach, the “science” mindset isn’t one to be dismissed lightly and could be the difference between success and failure in a meeting.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.