The cold, hard truth is that you aren’t all that smart.
But you probably know plenty of people who are and learning how to harness the network of brilliance you have surrounding you might be the ultimate life hack.
In that spirit, I offer a small compendium of some of the best advice I have ever received:
- “If you drove a BMW Z3 to school when you were 17, what would you have to look forward to in life?”
This gem came from my mom when I was a senior in high school after I explained that I was embarrassed to park my vehicle (a Buick Park Avenue made the year I was born) next to my high school crush’s brand-new sports car.
This is the extent of any parental chat about work ethic I ever remember having with one of my parents and it clearly did the trick. Without criticizing my peers or their upbringings, Mom made a very clear values statement in one sentence. I think about this often when I am tempted to cut corners in life or phone in my effort.
- “Under promise. Over-deliver.”
Brad was my first boss in a career-oriented job. He definitely didn’t invent this sentiment, but he stated it clearly to me back then and I put it into practice immediately. I can attribute a pattern of promotions and successes both with Brad and subsequent managers and work situations that can all be attributed to my manifesting this concept. In some ways, it’s better spoken as “Be humble and let the work speak for itself.”
- “Passive aggressiveness is the laziest form of confrontation.”
I was in a company leadership mentoring program where I was paired with a seasoned vet in our industry to guide me through challenges of being a young manager. While we never grew super close personally, Nick was, in fact, a well of smart thinking and good strategy. He said this phrase to me after I described the way a co-manager was maneuvering around me without really addressing the problems we had.
This single articulation has probably saved me from sending dozens of emails I would regret over the years. Every time I think about harnessing sarcasm and situational weaponry as a temporary relief for my frustration with co-workers, I can hear Nick’s voice in my head.
- “Be the nice guy.”
As a young manager who looked even younger than I was, there were many times in my 20’s where I considered that maybe nice guys do finish last. I would demand my way, shorten my fuse, complain and confront. And my Debra – my annoyingly smart and perceptive wife – would have to say this to me over and over. Frustrating situations have resolved much more clearly and quickly when I have taken a soft approach as opposed to the times I aggressively tried to bend others to my will.
- “Find the workarounds.”
Schumacher – a general manager I worked under for more than a half-dozen years – taught me a lot of things, but maybe nothing that has been more valuable than the concept of helping people get better at the things at which they already excel – instead of beating them up for the things they don’t. He made it ok to admit that I wasn’t naturally an organized or detailed person, but empowered me to figure out ways to deal with those weaknesses without them counting against me. Subsequently, I have gotten much better and more well-rounded in these areas in which I used to struggle. I found it much easier to improve when the pressure was off.