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Why "perspicacity" you ask? Why couldn't you just say "pearls of wisdom"? Or even something more straightforward like "good ideas"? The answer is simple. None of those words sufficiently describe the book's broad range of content and the true nature of the ideas presented. Take wisdom for example. Wisdom implies a soundness based on knowledge, experience, or understanding that leads to good judgment. Fair enough; the ideas in the book would pass this test. But the nature of these pearls extends beyond mere soundness. Perspicacity implies a special keenness or acuity applied to insight. It implies a cleverness, perceptiveness, or acuity that takes the basic notion of wisdom one step deeper. This deeper level internalization of certain truths will give you a noticeable advantage in your career.
Don't tell me who you are. Instead let me watch you for a week and I'll tell you. You can't fool people, lie to people, or persuade them to believe something that doesn't match reality for the long term.
Think back to some past jobs you've held or groups of people with whom you've worked. Did you know who contributed and who skated? Did you know who could be trusted and who couldn't? Did you know who could be relied on in a pinch and who couldn't? Did you know who always maintained high standards of performance and who didn't? Did you know who was thorough and responsible and who always looked for the shortcut? Did you know who genuinely cared about the organization and who didn't? Did you know who genuinely cared about other people and who didn't? Did you know who tried to kiss up to the boss and who let their performance speak for itself? Did you know who tried to put a spin on everything so they could take unfair credit and who gave credit where credit was due?
You're darn right you did! But here's the kicker ... so did everyone else! Some people might be fooled some of the time. Sometimes people say things in public conversations that might seem to indicate that a large number of people are fooled for good. Contrary to such false appearances, however, the reality is that over time everyone knows.
More important, everyone knows about you, or will know all about you in time. You can't lie to people about who you are, what you do, or how you act for very long. People who try to live a lie don't last.
This truism demands that we learn two valuable lessons.
The first lesson is: Don't become overly concerned when:
1. You see someone getting away with something you think they shouldn't (such as often slipping out early at the end of the day when the boss isn't looking).
2. You see someone else get credit for work when you think credit should have gone to you or someone else.
3. You think others are getting an unfair share of recognition or appreciation compared to what you deserve.
If you get sidetracked by those concerns, you will pay a price. More importantly, if you embrace those kinds of concerns and try to act on them, you'll simply create problems for yourself that you won't want to deal with. In addition, you'll make it harder for people to recognize and act upon your actual performance and the positive contribution you're making.
The second lesson is: Always ensure that your focus is on performing, supporting others in their performance, and working with character and integrity. Why? Because if that's your reality-if that's what's important to you-then over time people will know.
How you work with people is as important as what you do. If you're not seen as someone who is good to be around, a supportive and contributing member of the team, people won't want to be around you. If people don't want to be around you, or don't want you around, you're not going to have much of a career.
The major reason I wrote WINNING WAYS: Four Secrets for Getting Great Results by Working Well with People (Putnam, 2000, and Berkley, 2002) was because I had encountered so many people throughout my career who simply didn't understand this important lesson. It breaks my heart year after year to see so many people fall short of realizing their full potential and the full rewards they could accrue because they didn't understand that the way they work with other people is critical to their success.
If you are obnoxious, rude, selfish, or abrasive when working with others, it doesn't matter how smart, gifted, or productive you are.
Interestingly enough, the people who don't understand this are also the people who don't realize they are their own worst enemy. I get lots of calls to my radio show, a large number of emails, and frequent questions from people after hearing me speak that go something like this: "I don't think my boss likes me and I don't know why. I do good work and am smarter than most of the people I work with" or "The people I work with aren't very friendly and nice to me. But they all get along and seem to like each other. I don't know why, because I'm probably the best performer in the group."
I have to bite my tongue when I hear statements like these. My impulse is to blurt out, "Can't you see, you poor soul, YOU are the problem-not them!"
People who are insensitive to "process" are likewise insensitive to the impact they have on other people. If everyone else is friendly and respectful with each other and you're the one who's not part of the fun, then chances are that you are at least part of the problem, if not all of it. Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do people often reject my good ideas for reasons that don't make sense to me?
2. Do people seem to cut me out of the conversation when it turns serious and important issues are being discussed?
3. Do the people I work with go to lunch together or spend time during breaks together without including me?
4. Do the people I work with often plan projects and make important decisions without including me when I have knowledge or expertise that could contribute significantly to the work?
If your answer is yes to some or all of these questions, you are probably process-challenged! This means you need to work more effectively with people, taking care how you influence them. You need to pay more attention to how you work with people, without compromising your standards or performance. In fact, if you become more process-sensitive in working with others, you'll quickly learn that the overall quality of your work will improve dramatically.
Work well with people and they'll overlook a lot of your sins and shortcomings. Interact poorly with them and it will be almost impossible to sustain lasting achievement.
Noted management guru Peter Drucker once said that somewhere around 85 percent of the potential to contribute in most management jobs is wasted. Over the years I've shared that observation with many managers. Their first reaction is always similar. "He's crazy," they say. "I put in sixty to seventy hours a week. If anything, I'm working at 150 to 200 percent!"
"Wrong," I say. You see, he didn't say you aren't working hard. Most people work hard. Working hard is not the issue. The issue is how much you contribute to achieving your full potential in whatever position you hold.
Activity doesn't equal productivity.
Most people-especially those in management and leadership positions in organizations-miss most of their potential to contribute in the jobs they hold because they think being busy is the same as being productive. Another reason for missed potential is that they see themselves as caretakers, maintaining continuity, rather than as leaders who are responsible for making things better.
Every job you'll ever hold has tremendous potential for making things better-better for the organization and its people, better for your customers, and better for society in general. It's up to each of us, especially those in leadership positions, to discover the most fruitful ways to make things better and to act on what we find.
The best way to do this is to ask a single question each and every day.
The most valuable and important question you can ask each day is: "What Can I Contribute?"
Many people start their day by asking what they can get rather than what they can give ... to the organization, to colleagues, and to others. Yet the best way to tap into the vast potential of any job you'll ever hold is to ask, "What can I contribute?" Use it as a tool to think about how you can make things better tomorrow than they are today, better than the week before, better than last month, and better next year than last year-for your customers, your co-workers, your company, and the community.
Answer this question wisely, follow up with your answers, and you will create a track record of contribution-oriented achievements that no one will ever be able to take away. "Following up" means being able to look back each month to identify specific contributions you have made to your company, your work environment, or your work to make them better than they were the month before.
You'll spend whatever bonus money you earn. Soon you'll grow tired of the plaques on the wall that cast you in the spotlight for a moment or two. But if you can contribute something special in each job you hold that demonstrates things were better as a result of your efforts, those contributions will stay with you for your entire life.
Regardless of whether other people's perceptions of you are valid or not, they are real. Because they are real to whoever holds them, those people will act on them as if they are real, whether or not they are accurate. The best way to manage perceptions is to perform (see Chapter 1-"Everybody Knows"). Consistently act in a manner that is congruent with the image you want to create in other people's minds, because over time-if given the opportunity-reality will generally win out (see 1 again).
Because people act on their perceptions whether they are valid or not, you owe it to yourself to manage their perceptions of you so you can increase the probability that their perceptions are valid and serve you well. In fact, from time to time it is essential that you influence perceptions for the short term.
The most important time to manage perceptions is when you are making a first impression. You can only make a first impression once, so it's important that when you make first impressions they are valid and set the proper foundation for your future relationship. Don't go overboard and try to "heap it on" stronger than reality will support. People will see through that. But it's equally important to give thought to your words, your actions, and your personal appearance so that the proper impression is created. A bad first impression will work against you in the long run. You'll have to work three to four times as hard to overcome a bad first impression as you will if you make a good first impression.
Think about how you want others to perceive you in every situation you face. Assess what you say and do to make sure you're acting in a manner that is congruent with this desired perception. Also assess others' perceptions of you to get feedback about how you are perceived compared to how you'd like to be perceived. Then decide what is necessary to bring the two together. You might have to change the way you act or you may have to change the way others think. Usually your strategy will be a combination of both.
A short anecdote underscores the importance of understanding the role of perceptions in on-the-job interactions. One time when I was running a company, two women who worked in the corporate office approached me to complain about the inappropriate behavior of one of the senior male staffers. They alleged that he had repeatedly made statements laden with sexual innuendos and overtones. They said the comments made them so uncomfortable that they didn't want to be near him, let alone work with him. When I told him about the complaints, he erupted. He talked about how close he was to his wife, how many women he'd worked with during his career who could vouch for his fidelity, and how well-respected he was by several prominent women in the company. He said I could rest assured that there were no innuendos and that the negative reaction of these women was inappropriate and out of line.
I asked him if he'd ever received this kind of feedback before. He answered truthfully that it had come up a few times before, but said that in each case, the women were wrong. He said he would never inappropriately approach any woman, and he felt these women had overreacted because of their hang-ups, not his behavior.
It took me awhile to help him understand that if a number of people had reacted the way they did to him, and didn't react that way toward anyone else, then there must be something he was doing to create these perceptions.
At first he was resistant to my suggestion because he felt that if he weren't doing anything wrong and his intentions were noble, then it wasn't fair to ask him to change just to accommodate their false perceptions.
I asked him if he wanted to be perceived as someone who was prone to demonstrate inappropriate behavior. He said he didn't.
I then suggested that if he had noble attentions and wanted to be perceived as such, then it was in his best interest to always act in a way that put him completely above reproach so that he would always be perceived that way in every situation. In other words, his personal knowledge that his intentions were noble wasn't enough. He had to act in such a way that everyone else would perceive him the same way he perceived himself.
Once he adopted this new standard for behavior, no one ever complained about him again. And guess what? General perceptions of his performance and competence improved as well.
One of the biggest hindrances to corporate productivity today comes from people within the organization who are competing against the wrong people.
First let's talk about who you should compete against. The most obvious is people from other companies who are competitors in your marketplace. For example, if you work in a private sector research and development company, you might be competing against universities or some government agencies. In other words, you are in competition with other people who might take away your markets, beat you to market, or in some other way diminish your ability to succeed in your market.
Now let's talk about who you should never compete with. First is your boss (or anyone else up the hierarchy). Second, you should never compete with colleagues or co-workers. Third, you should never compete with your subordinates.
Excerpted from Pearls of Perspicacity by Dick Lyles Copyright © 2010 by Dick Lyles. Excerpted by permission.
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