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Stairs at Terroni
Queen St. Toronto, Ontario
"Do you have any questions for me?" I asked an applicant after my part of asking him questions, in an interview for a sales position.
"Sir...what has been your secret for success in staying in an organization without any conflict with co-employees?"
I remember being taken aback by the question more than a decade ago. I wanted to come up with a witty retort or leave it as it is, and look stupid to ask, "pardon me" or "can you rephrase that again?"
But knowing myself and knowing how I react in situations - cool and unperturbed, I cleared my throat and leaned forward and told him straight. "I feign weakness". What I told him was neither life-changing nor a defining moment wisdom but a secret that I always kept close to my heart for the last 17 years in my career.
In a world full of people pretending to know everything. I pretend that I don't. What I do is: to feign weakness.
1. To acknowledge the strength of my bosses - they're there because of their hard work It is not brown nosing or ass kissing, but basically knowing where you are in the hierarchy of an organization.
2. To know your position in the scheme of things - do not do what your bosses should do, or else you are doing a disservice to the organization as they have an overpaid executive.
3. To negotiate within limits - when given an assignment, ask "when do you need this?" If the date is unmanageable nor apparently impractical, say "I can do that within that time, but since I want something turned in with quality, can you add another week or two?"
4. To be in a position to seek help - you can never do anything successfully without the help of anyone. Always start a request even to a peer or an assistant with "I need your help..."
5. Lastly, pretend that you don't know everything. Because - honey, you don't, and even if you do, no one cares and no one is paid a CEO's salary because you just happen to know how to be a CEO. You are paid a CEO's salary because you are the CEO. So even if you know how to do it, you don't and you can't. Maybe you won't.
If you want me to explain what I just said, my curt answer is "I don't know. Maybe you can help me. I'm getting confused myself as I'm not good in giving all these advices."
One thing I'm sure, Sun Tzu of "The Art of War" fame validates what I've wanted to say for the last 5 minutes. He said "All warfare is based on deception."
So the next time you have anything against your boss - acknowledge his strengths (not his weakness, even if he has a lot of them) and know that you can work better knowing that you don't want to do his work, and yes please know your place. When expectations are not practical, deadlines are tight, negotiate - and within limits.
Oh yes, whatever happened to the applicant? He accepted the position. He worked from one of the junior salespeople positions to being Sales Manager, all within 1 year.
He came up to me when my movement to another company was announced and said, "hey thanks man, my interview with you was memorable and I was able to succeed remembering those same words".
"Huh? Did I?. Get out of here, you know you are a good salesman, you always ask the right questions..."
"Sometimes I don't get you". he said turning his back from my door.
"Me too." - to end our repartee.
Of course, there's a difference between false humility and pretending a weak stance. But that's for another blog entry.
You know why Kobe hasn't won a Most Valuable Player award all of his past 12 years in the NBA although he has won 3 championship rings, led scoring for a number of times and continue to enjoy MVP-type of a season year in year out?
He hasn't feigned weakness.
I love Kobe - but for me, he IS NOT the most valuable player. His teammates were the most valuable teammates and allowed him to be good for the 12th year.