What Makes a Real Go-to Person Stand the Test of Time?

STEP 1: Fight “Overcommitment Syndrome.”

Everywhere I go, I’m always looking for the real “GO-TO PEOPLE.” In our ongoing (since 1993) workplace research, I try to ask everybody: Who are your GO-TO PEOPLE? And why?

I’m most interested in those people—at all levels—who show up on those “Go-to” lists the most consistently over time.

Go-to people are the ones other people want to go to, over and over again. They are the employees most trusted by the most colleagues to help them meet their needs at work on time, on spec, in a manner that strengthens their relationship, or at least doesn’t weaken it too much.

I’ve been studying these go-to people for decades now. What do they have in common?

Go-to people come in every variety, at every level, in organizations of all shapes and sizes, in every industry. There are as many different styles and stories as there are go-to people. And there are many wannabes and plenty of imposters.

The Tech Expert

You might think the indispensable person is the technical expert who has a relative monopoly on vital skills for key tasks and responsibilities. Of course, your ability to do your job is of the utmost importance. But that’s just the price of entry. Hard skills will get you hired, but they rarely will set you apart from your peers, at least for very long—especially these days.

I’ve seen a zillion cases where an employee is, by far, the most technically skilled at doing their job, and maybe even the best at getting important aspects of the job done, but they are still nobody’s first choice of somebody to go to—much less somebody to grant more responsibility or resources or authority.

This is usually due to a gap in how that person relates to others, the management of themselves or their workload.

Sometimes the technical expert/know-it-all is convinced he’s more qualified than everyone else and spends much of his time blaming and complaining about all the things that are wrong in the company, the management of it, the process, and personnel. He is so “qualified” that the only thing he can focus on are all the things out of his control. Nobody wants to work with that guy. In fact, most people would much rather work with someone who is not necessarily the most technically competent but who takes personal responsibility for his role and what he can do to make the situation better now.

The Yes Man

You might think the indispensable person is the one who always says yes, yes, yes, to any request or proposition. But I’ve seen hundreds of cases where the person who says yes, yes, yes, to please you up front, isn’t able to deliver on the backend. Their overpromising causes you more problems than you had to begin with. And I’ve seen hundreds of cases of people who say yes, yes, yes, who are honorable, responsible, and capable, but become overcommitted, and therefore, start juggling too many competing priorities and inevitably start dropping the balls, and getting burnt out and overbooked. Most people prefer to work with somebody who makes promises they can keep over somebody who promises the world but doesn’t deliver.

The Rule Breaker

You might think the indispensable person is someone who will do an end run around the chain of command and standard operating procedures—or even the rules—for you. But that rarely ends up going very well for very long. Most people would prefer to steer clear of trouble with the boss.

Who They Are

You might think it’s the people who work hardest. But it’s not—it is the people who work smartest.

You might think it is the person who is the most creative. But it’s not—it is the person who masters the best practices and repeatable solutions

Or you might think it’s the person who is really good at getting what they need from people. But, no, it is the person who is good at helping others get their needs met.

You might think it is the person who is good at influencing others so as to get what they need out of them. But, no, it’s the person who is consistently building influence with others by helping them get their needs met.

You might think it is the person who is great at juggling competing priorities. But it’s not. It is the person who focuses on one thing at a time and has a relentless focus on next steps and finishes what they start.

You might think it is the person who is the best at personal rapport building and internal politics. But it’s not. It is the person who is best at continuously improving the working side—not the personal or political sides—of working relationships. It’s about getting better and better at working together.

The real go-to person is the one who focuses on building real relationship power for the long-term, by focusing on helping other people get their needs met. It’s all about making themselves incredibly valuable to others.

Indispensable Doesn’t Mean Burnt Out

Maybe you are worried that it is impossible to do all this without destroying your health and happiness. But the good news is that being indispensable doesn’t have to mean being quadrupled booked all the time, never taking vacations, always being under-slept and over-tired, always overwhelmed and juggling competing priorities.

In fact, the biggest mistake people make in trying to be indispensable is trying to do all that. It is a set-up for failure and burnout. That’s how one succumbs to what I call “overcommitment syndrome” … and later “siege mentality,” which makes you a definite “NOT-go-to person”—at least until you bounce back.

What do true go-to people—those who stand the test of time—really have in common?

They have a special way of thinking about collaboration and conducting themselves in workplace relationships:

The Thinking: They have a strong philosophical bias for service, which is precisely why they are not always available to everybody.

The Conduct: They treat other people’s needs with great respect, so they do not make commitments they cannot keep.

True go-to people are relentless about ensuring communication alignment through structured dialogue in all of their key working relationships.

They evaluate every opportunity—great and small—with real due diligence.

They know what they can and cannot do; what they may or must not do; what they should or should not do. They know when NO may not be necessary, but it’s also not time for a YES. They know how to say, “Maybe, but not yet…” and “Maybe, but go back and fine-tune your ask…”

When the time is right to make a commitment, go-to people know it is critical, when they say YES, to define exactly who is going to do what, why, when, where, and how.

They know people are their #1 asset, so they invest in relationships. They don’t let people down. They lift people up. And that’s why others want to lift them up, too.

No wonder people want to go to them over and over and over again.

The more valuable you make yourself to others, the more they will truly want to work with you, want to make good use of your time, want to do things for you too, and truly want you to succeed. When you have that, then you have real influence, the power other people give you because of the working relationships you’ve built.

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” (Harvard Business Review Press) will be available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all major booksellers on July 21, 2020. You can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his Website at: rainmakerthinking.com.

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