I’ve been studying “go-to” people for decades now. Go-to people:
- Make themselves incredibly valuable to others
- Are very good at their jobs
- Maintain a positive attitude and double down on hard work
- Take personal responsibility and get things done
- Are creative and tenacious but do things by the book and follow orders
- Do all those things consistently, in most every interaction, over time
Sometimes when I get to this point in my seminars, participants will object, “Well, this is just the basics.”
Indeed, much of what makes go-to people go-to people is very much a back-to-basics approach. That’s when some of my seminar participants will complain, “This sounds like the same old line our bosses hand us: that we need to suck it up, work harder, step up our game—and do it all with a great big smile.”
And there’s a lot of truth to that: The game is moving to a higher level, competition is fierce, and if you want to stay ahead, you’ll have to keep raising your own game—just as the corporate overlords have been saying.
That’s when some of my seminar participants will begin a volley of objections: “What you are saying is impossible to maintain. All these extra relationships and all the extra work. Working double-time, triple-booked, missing vacations, never sleeping. It’s unsustainable. There has to be a limit.”
And, of course, they are 1,000 percent right, too.
There are no easy solutions or 100 percent solutions to the difficult realities outlined above.
But I do have lots of difficult partial solutions.
Is there a credo of the go-to person? I decided to write one, so here’s what it says:
- Understand and believe in the peculiar mathematics of real influence versus false influence. Real influence is the power you have when other people really want to do things for you, make good use of your time, and contribute to your success. The only way to build real influence is to truly believe, at your core, in the peculiar math: The more you serve others by doing the right thing for the long term, moment by moment, adding value in every single interaction, the richer you become in real influence.
- Know what’s required and what’s allowed—up and down the chain of command—before you try to work things out at your own level. You have to go vertically before you go sideways (or diagonally): Ensure alignment on priorities, ground rules, marching orders, and every next step through regular structured communication up, down, sideways, and diagonally.
- Know when to say, “No,” (and “Not yet”) and how to say, “Yes.” Remember, “Yes” is where all the action is. Every “Yes” is your opportunity to add value for others and build up your real influence. Don’t waste your “Yesses.” Set up every “Yes” for success with a concrete plan—a clear sequence, timing, and ownership of all the next steps.
- Work smart by professionalizing everything you do, specializing in what you do best, and steadily expanding your repertoire of specialties. Know what you want to be known for. That means mastering best practices, repeatable solutions, and job aids.
- Finish what you start. The busier you are, the less you can afford to be a juggler. If you are always juggling, you inevitably will drop the ball. You have to be able to handle a long and diverse list of responsibilities and projects, but you have to execute one thing at a time. Keep a long to-do list and schedule. But break work into small doable chunks and find gaps in your schedule for focused execution time. You can only finish one thing at a time.
- Keep getting better and better at working together. Lift people up and they will lift you up, too. Relationships are the key, but don’t focus on building relationships through politicking and personal rapport. Focus your relationship building on the work, and the work will go better. When the work goes better, the relationship will go better. How? Celebrate success with a supersonic thank you. Channel finger-pointing into continuous improvement through after-action reviews. Plan the next collaboration by looking around the corner together.
- Promote go-to-ism throughout your organization. Be a go-to person. Find go-to people wherever you need them. Build new go-to people whenever you have the chance. That’s how you build the upward spiral of real influence, the power people give each other because they want each other to be powerful. Go-to-ism is the art of being (nearly) indispensable at work.
Bruce Tulgan is the best-selling author of “It’s Okay to Be the Boss” and the CEO of RainmakerThinking, the management research, consulting, and training firm he founded in 1993. All of his work is based on 27 years of intensive workplace interviews and has been featured in thousands of news stories around the world. His newest book, “The Art of Being Indispensable at Work: Win Influence, Beat Overcommitment, and Get the Right Things Done,” is available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all major booksellers on July 21, 2020 from Harvard Business Review Press. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his Website at: rainmakerthinking.com.