The #1 Super Secret to Career Success

Be of service

Back when I was a law firm associate, I recall asking around to learn how the most successful partner in the firm had built a $7.1 million “book” of business. That was back in ‘93, so his book was a lot bigger then than it seems now.

How did he do it?

This lawyer’s specialty was reinsurance litigation (too boring to explain). What he did was act as an informal employment agency for every employee of every reinsurance company he represented. If Company A was looking to replace its CEO and he was aware that Joe or Jill of Company B had been angling for C-suite position, he just picked up the phone and shared what he knew. That made a lot of people beholden to him, not because he pushed or bullied or bragged about himself, but because he’d genuinely been of service without asking for anything in return. (LinkedIn members note: don’t immediately follow a connection request with a sales pitch).

You can’t expect to be rewarded

Resentment always follows

I frankly don’t know if this extraordinarily successful attorney was just a good guy or was pursuing a calculated strategy to put as many reinsurance executives in his debt as possible. It doesn’t really matter.

What matters is having no expectation of reward.

Because people don’t always reciprocate. And if you expect to be rewarded and aren’t, resentment follows and that curdles everything.

the strategic “no”

Listen. I’m not suggesting that women who do too much take on greater volunteer responsibilities than they already have. Because there are boundaries we need to keep in place and priorities we need to serve. One of those priorities is to learn what one law firm chairman called the “strategic no.” My former business partner, Lisa Gates, now over at Story Happens Here, built on the idea with the following ways to say “no.”

  1. Just flat out no: "Yes, I'd love to participate, and I'm going to have to decline."

  2. No with help: "I love that you thought of me, and I'm unable to participate. How can I help you find someone else?"

  3. No with appreciation: "I think your idea is fabulous, and I'm not able to participate at this time."

  4. No and yes: "Yes, I'd love to participate, but at a later date. Can you ask me again in January?”

  5. No with specific yes: "I'd love to help you with your project, and I'm on a deadline until Tuesday. Can we meet on Wednesday?"

  6. No when you don't know: "Sounds interesting. I need to sleep on that" OR “I need to check with my boss/partner.”

  7. No with values: “If I take on another task right now, I wouldn't be honoring my commitment to my [family] [work] [business].”

I wish it were easier to draw the line

We all have different lines to draw, boundaries to erect and priorities to serve. Nevertheless, in my own second career as a mediator and negotiation consultant, I have found that open handed giving to people whose work I believe in has created a dynamic feed-back loop that feels as good as the business it drives.

Try it. The rewards are of the heart, on-mission, and self-serving all at the same time. It doesn’t get any better than that.