Be The One They Count On

Be The One They Count On
By Howard Tullman

 
It’s not just country music that we rely on to say the simple things that need sayin’. And the Blues don’t have any monopoly on tellin’ it like it is (or how it ain’t) or the way it should be. The fact is that, over the years, many songs from other genres have also told some basic stories which then resonated with millions of listeners and turned those “hits” into timeless classics. The format was inexpensive and the songs were “popular”; but that said nothing about the depth and reality of the feelings they successfully evoked. Even big boys do occasionally cry – as does everyone else. Music moves us all to extremes.
 

 
Sometimes, but only rarely, the elements that drove the widespread appreciation of these special tunes were the song’s memorable hook; a special intro (like Keith’s on Satisfaction); or a guitar solo (think Carlos Santana) that seemed permanently stuck in our minds. Most of the time, however, it was the immediate and intimate connection that we had with the lyrics which sealed the deal. They seemed to be speaking directly to us and “killing us softly” with a sensation of unexpected emotion. They surprised and touched us because they spoke to and about the very things that were important in our own lives. The truth is that music and music alone has both the power and our permission to enter our lives every day and excite and move us in these magical ways. As Sara Bareilles says in Brave: music can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug.

But putting all the “love” (including love of country) and all the “loss” songs aside, what strikes me is that the singly most successful and consistent message in the largest number of classic songs (which are as powerful and telling today as they were on the day they were written and first performed) is one that’s just as significant in our business lives as it is in our personal affairs. It’s about the importance of being there.

Think about it.

What have you got “when you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand”?  Of course, you’ve got a friend.

And who will “take your part when darkness comes and pain is all around”?  Simon and Garfunkel – for sure.

And for all those times “in our lives when we all have pain – we all have sorrow”?  We know we can lean on … Bill Withers.

Everyone needs someone in their lives that they can count on – someone to call when there’s no one else to call. And, these days, with radical change and ongoing disruption being a constant part of every business, the most valuable people in any company are the ones you can count on in a crisis or a crunch – the “go-to” guys and girls. The people who are there in a pinch and who you just naturally tend to run to – not from – when the feces hit the fan.

This isn’t part of anyone’s job description. And it’s not something you can create on the fly or on the spot. It’s a visceral feeling that you just get about the people who’ve got it. But here’s the good news. It’s something you can build over time (like any other part of your reputation) and it’s something that you can work on and work at every day while you’re at work and – over time – if you’re truly committed and your efforts are sincere and authentic; you can make it happen.

And, just in case it’s not obvious, there’s no better investment you could possibly make in your career or your future than being the first stop when someone’s looking for help and not the last resort.

So what does it take to get it done?

(1)   Stay Up (Perspiration)

Be the early bird at the office. Effort and energy trump talent all day long. And it never hurts to be the night owl too. Not the guy who’s the last to leave the office TGIF party, but the person who puts in the extra time to make sure that things are done right the first time. Turns out that the buddies you buy beers for aren’t very often the ones you’d bet your business on. And, as often as not, while you’re bellying up to the bar (or buying someone a breakfast burrito the next morning); the real winners are back at the ranch taking care of business.

(2)   Step Up (Passion)

Make sure that everyone knows you’re interested and available. That you’re excited about the business and the opportunities and that you really want to be a part of the program. Ya gotta want it and it’s gotta show. You need to put it out there and understand that all anyone can do is say “no” – they won’t eat you.  And – if you keep asking – I guarantee you that it’ll only be a “no for now” and it’ll be full speed ahead soon enough. You won’t get your shot if you don’t take every opportunity to try and you’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Anyone who tells you it’s not cool to be out front and eager these days will soon be changing the bottles on the water cooler while you’re being welcomed into the club.

(3)   Study Up (Preparation)

Even in the world of great entrepreneurial BS-ers, it actually does help to know what you’re talking about. “Wingin’ it” is good for sports bars and on Thanksgiving, but it’s not a strategy for success in business. As I said recently, saying you don’t know something these days isn’t a commentary on your lack of knowledge – it’s a confession of laziness and lack of interest – because the information is out there today; it’s mostly a matter of looking.  And if you cared; you’d care enough to get the answers before the questions were asked. The kind of knowledge, research and situational awareness that matter don’t grow on trees or happen automatically or without help. You’ve got to put in the time, do the looking, and ask for assistance (when you don’t have or can’t find all the answers) in order to be ready when someone asks you for a hand.

(4)   Stand Up (Principles)

You can’t create value if you don’t have a set of real values of your own that consistently guide and inform the way you behave. Charismatic leaders can attract a lot of followers, but the attraction is to themselves rather than to something greater and more important. Cause leaders bring the multitudes along with them in support of doing things that matter and make a difference not simply to a single business, but in terms of a broader and more general good. It’s important for the people you work with (and for) to understand that – while we don’t expect anyone, but a monk to be utterly selfless – you believe that the best plans and the best businesses are focused on creating situations where everyone can benefit and where it’s a win-win-win all around. Not easy to engineer or to pull off, but very important in the end.

(5)   Stick to It (Perseverance)

Execution is everything. Keeping at it – getting knocked down and picking yourself up again – making it clear that you won’t settle for less or take “no” for an answer – these are all behaviors and traits that give off a certain vibration that the big dogs in the business will quickly sense and pick right up on because (a) it’s absolutely a part of their own DNA and (b) it’s also a big part of what got them to where they are. Winners have a Spidey-sense about other winners and, while their ears don’t exactly perk up like a dog’s; you can’t miss the shift in their interest and attention when they encounter another of their own species. Wanting to win is fine – wanting to do the work that it takes to win and to keep at it until you do win is what makes the difference in the end.

That’s all it takes. You can make it happen and there’s no time like the present to get started. It’s a lifelong iterative journey and the good news is that it gets better all the time.

If there’s a goal or an endpoint to the process, it’s very simple. When the chips are down and the fat’s in the fire, you want to be the one who people can count on.

Howard A. Tullman serves as the CEO of 1871 and the General Managing Partner for G2T3V, LLC and for the Chicago High Tech Investors, LLC; he is Executive Chairman and a Director of Music Dealers and a Director of SnapSheet, PackBack Books, VEHCON, and BCV Evolve. He is a Board Advisor to Hightower Advisors, The Starter School, Built in Chicago and many other start-ups in Chicago. He was previously a Trustee of WTTW in Chicago and the New York Academy of Art in New York. He serves as the Chairman of the Endowment Committee of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, and an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Evanston and at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago.