One Intangible Needed to Attain the Brass Ring

I was lucky to have the conversation I’m about to relay to you when I was in my twenties, early enough in my career where I could remember and rely on these words of wisdom for decades to come.

At the time I was working for a company that specialized in designing presentation materials like PowerPoint slides, printed books and brochures for Fortune 500 companies. It was a high-pressure, around-the-clock kind of job with speech materials coming in at all times that needed quick turnaround for execs rushing off to catch planes to deliver keynotes at conferences and seminars. My contacts included, amongst others, executive speechwriters and admins to some of New York’s best-known CEOs.

One day I was visiting with the executive admin to a renowned company and we were talking about how her boss was getting ready to step down as CEO. We had become close and I wondered how this would affect her job. Who would replace him? When would it happen? Would she follow the exiting executive or stay on with the new one?

She said she had no idea who it would be but, you could definitely count on who it wouldn’t be. It sure wasn’t going to be his right hand person. I thought I had not heard her correctly- not the next-in-command? That’s right, she replied, it was going to be someone other than him. What made her so sure?

“Because, Stefany, that man sees me every single day and has no idea what my name is,” she said. “Now if you look at my boss, he knows pretty much everyone’s name on this floor and stops to talk to them from time to time. The other guy just rushes from one meeting to the next and can’t be bothered. You can’t run a company when you don’t care about the people. It just won’t work.”

I spent a great deal of time thinking about how right those words sounded, and over the years I’ve come to see how much truth is behind them. Running over or going through people to get things done doesn’t win friends and influence people. How much of what we accomplish in life is through brains? How much of our path is paved by leading with the heart? I doubt there are courses at Harvard Business School for business leaders about how to be liked and how to demonstrate genuine interest in others, but without these qualities, you’re missing a key component to success.

The lesson I learned so early on was that often, successes in life will not just come from working harder, but also heart-er.

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