Boulder is the unofficial cycling capital of the country and many of us get a ride in at the end of the workday. Driving home one especially hot afternoon I encountered a young man who had a flat and was walking his bike in his socks (it’s hard to walk in bike cleats).
Having been in this unenviable position before myself, I pulled over and told him to throw his bike in the back and hop in. As we were driving the few miles back to his apartment, I was amazed by his mood. Most people in his position would be whining about his broken pump, aching feet, searing heat, etc, but this guy was smiling and talking about what a great day it was.
Small talk turned to employers and school. He had just finished a two-year tech degree and was looking for work. He asked about my employer, listening intently as I described what our company did, and asking insightful questions about the product. This guy seemed incredibly interested and so I ended up explaining that our company had more demand for our product than we could handle. We ended up talking about the current production bottleneck (product calibration) and the skilled, and highly compensated technicians that we needed to hire in order to ramp up production. You can see where this is heading. In 15 minutes, Dave’s optimism, interest in my business and winning attitude won me over. I didn’t hire him on the spot, but I did refer him to my production manager with a good recommendation. He got the job.
Was this just luck? Maybe. Was he opportunistic? Certainly. The lesson contained here is that your next big opportunity may come from a direction that you didn’t anticipate, and that it pays to model some specific behaviors when you get the chance to interact with someone in a position to help you. I’ve seen it happen this way over and over again. Everyone, especially corporate managers, go through life consumed with their own challenges. They aren’t looking for people to provide the opportunity of a lifetime to; they just want help solving their problems. And if the solution to one of their problems happens to mean giving you a shot at a dream job, well that’s just a really nice unintended consequence for you.
It’s pretty simple really. You need to exhibit behaviors that cause people, especially those in positions of responsibility, to think about you when they need help. And why would they? Two reasons. Because you make them feel good and you solve their problems. Here’s a list of behaviors that decision makers find irresistible.
- Become a “can-do” problem solver: People avoid the whiner and gravitate toward (and promote) the person who has never seen a problem that couldn’t be solved. Look around the table and you’ll identify this person. He’s the one with the “I got this” smile when a nasty problem has just been discovered.
- Go All In! Decide what’s important to you and go “All-In”. It is clear when someone is fully committed to a cause, company, or person and it is extremely attractive. Someone who is All-In leaves nothing to chance, managing the smallest of details, much like a hockey player finishing a check. Bosses, like coaches, take notice.
- Be a world class listener: Integrate what you hear with your own life experience and see what you can add to the mix. Leaders are dying to interact with people who understand their thinking and can add to it.
- Be upbeat / engaging / open: Invite interaction with your attitude and facial expression. Be the person that everyone is always happy to see. The more you can wear a smile the better. Replace cynical comments with a good-natured sense of humor.
- Strive for humility: No one likes the cocky jerk. It’s much more enjoyable to be around the confident but modest professional whose performance makes it clear that she is the real deal, not her entitled attitude.
Adopt these behaviors and you will earn a spot at the table. You can decide later whether this table is one you want to join.
Mark Hopkins earned engineering degrees from Cornell and Stanford and then spent the next twenty-five years deciphering the factors that make some people prosperous, successful and happy After building a leadership career with companies like Hewlett Packard and Emerson Electric, Hopkins founded Peak Industries, a medical device contract manufacturer, which he grew to $75 million and later sold to Delphi. He then founded Crescendo Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and Catalyst, a private foundation supporting Colorado-based nonprofits and micro-lending in the developing world. He is the author of Shortcut to Prosperity: 10 Entrepreneurial Habits and a Roadmap For An Exceptional Career.