July 16

5 lessons on being the go to person

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The go to person is a legend wherever you’re working. Whenever you ask a question to your colleague, they may keep referring you to the same person. When promotions and payrises get awarded, you see the names of the same people.

And slowly you wonder, how did this person get to become the go to person, whom everyone praises and relies on?

What characteristics does the person show? What does he do?

How do you become like him?

Here’s how.

Just for the record

For the record, I’m not a go-to person. I’ve gotten sacked from jobs, gotten a Performance Improvement Plan in my first full-time job, and struggled badly.

I'm that guy who always got scolded by the boss
I’m that guy who always got scolded by the boss

Why listen to me?

One reason. Because failure teaches you what not to do. And sometimes, when you stop making mistakes, you find yourself becoming successful at work.

When Warren Buffett, the world’s most famous investor was asked about his principles of investing, he didn’t talk about what you should do. Instead, he shared two rules.

Rule number 1: Don’t lose money.

Rule number 2: Never forget rule number 1.

It’s curious how Warren Buffett’s philosophy behind his successful track record in investing consists more of what you shouldn’t do, rather than what you should.

Taking this approach to our work also means that we can learn what to stop doing, so that we become more successful.

Here’s what you can learn, from my horrible track record at work.

Why you’re not the go to person

You may look enviously at the track records of people having great careers, and wish you were like them.

Wishing is not going to get you there. Acting is. You need to start taking action if you want to be the go-to person that many people know of and respect.

Reading this article is not going to get you there too. You need to take effort.

Stop taking on more things

It’s easy to say ‘yes!’ But we don’t often know what we are saying ‘yes’ to. By saying ‘yes’ to more and more things, we leave less energy for the things that we are really responsible for. In my first job, I kept taking on more responsibilities, without realising that my basic job was not even being done well.

This led me to a PIP, which is a get better or get sacked plan.

During the discussion, I remember my boss advising,

You should read the job description and make sure you do them well before doing extra.

Do you know what you are being rated for? Often, there are committees and extra volunteer projects you can join at work. I’m not asking you to be selfish, but I’m recommending that you look first at whether you’re even managing your basic job well, before you take on more things.

As much as you would love to prove yourself, you need to prove yourself in the basic, dirty jobs, before people can trust you to take on bigger and bigger jobs.

Maybe sometimes, it helps to take the foot off the volunteer projects you're doing and focus on the work you should actually be doing
Maybe sometimes, it helps to take the foot off the volunteer projects you’re doing and focus on the work you should actually be doing

Even now, as I lead a team, I know that the basic job I have to do is to make sure that the product is developed well, and that the service is delivered to the customer’s satisfaction. That involves sometimes seemingly small actions, like buying snacks for the customer, going out of my way to post letters to potential customers, and getting gifts for my team.

This may seem small and insignificant.

But it teaches you that it’s in the small things that the large things are born.

Take a default no position.

Stop running away from conflicts

I remember the first time I encountered conflict in my team. My team leader had openly criticised me for not having teamwork in an email to the team, and I felt shamed and humiliated. I stopped talking to him.

I ran away from the team, and stopped spending lunches with them.

This eventually led me to be excluded from the team, and to have few allies who would back me during the initiatives I wanted to push.

Fights will inevitably happen, but what will you do when they happen?
Fights will inevitably happen, but what will you do when they happen?

You’re inevitably going to face politics in the workplace. Why? Workplace politics, as Grace Teo-Dixon, a university lecturer at the Singapore University of Technology and Design defines it, is

competition over scarce resources.

You will face it because there are limited promotions and payrises and performance grades to go around. Whilst we would all love for the ‘abundance mentality’, there is a cap on how much of these can go around.

This means that there will be people who compete with you for these. Your toes will be stepped upon. When this happens, what do you do?

Here’s how.

Having had many tiffs with teammates, I have come to find the easiest way to be asking,

What if my teammate was doing the best he could?

Assuming the best of my teammate helps me to see them as fellow humans, rather than objectifying them. Objectifying them can sometimes be easy, especially when we paint them as nasty and evil.

But humanising them reminds us that there’s a good side to them. You’re ultimately still in the same company as them and sharing that sense of camaraderie can help.

Stop missing your commitments

Media coach Alan Stevens, loves saying,

Do what you say, and say what you do.

When you say something, do people take you seriously?
When you say something, do people take you seriously?

Doing what you say is never easy. After all, shooting your mouth is easy, until you realise the amount of effort it is to bring words to reality.

Doing what you say is about following through on your commitment. In Botelho and Powell’s study of 2600 executives who made it to the top, they found that the most common characteristic of their success was one quality.

Make a guess.

You may think of Obama and wonder if its charisma.

Or you may think of Steve Jobs, and wonder if it’s cr12 Habits of the creative mindeativity.

Nope.

It’s reliability. Reliability is the ability to do the things you say, such that people know that everything that you promise will be delivered. That’s why we keep going back to Amazon, because their 4-hour, next-day deliveries, are guaranteed. They deliver on their promises over and over again.

It’s vital that you take such a reliability to your work as well. Do what you say, or not don’t even promise it.

Stop leaving things open-ended

Botelho and Powell also found that the leaders who rose to the top were

Diabolical about follow-ups.

Followups are what you do after a meeting, summarising

  1. what was discussed
  2. what is going to be done
  3. Who is going to do them
  4. When it will be done

Such followup ensures that colleagues know that you take them seriously. Others show this seriousness by taking pen and paper to discussions. Such a simple action can show people that you’re not wasting their time, but instead taking it seriously.

Go-to people are rare, so make yourself indispensable

The world is fast belonging to people who can consistently deliver on their promises. After all, in an era of fake news, it’s difficult for people to trust anything easily.

But when you’re consistently able to deliver, on time, on target, people trust you more and more. They realise you’re not just joking.

But that you’re moving with what you say.


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