Ulterior motives are where I start. I’ve found that telling people directly about my plan, and my selfish reasons behind that plan, is a way of building trust. What you see is what you get. No guessing games with me.
I’ll go so far as to say, “My ulterior motive is to make myself indispensable so I can be where the action is happening.”
The next piece of my plan is to always be willing to do the scutwork. I scrubbed a lot of toilets to put myself through school, and I changed a lot of diapers in high school to supplement my wardrobe. Nothing I do in the world of business is anywhere near that gross. I’m willing to do any amount of honest labor to get what I want.
Here’s an example:
I worked in an office with a director who was almost never there, because he spent the majority of his time getting grants for our program. Rainmaker extraordinaire! I didn’t know him well, but I did know that he’d built his department from himself plus one assistant, to a full staff of seventeen, in just a few years. I also knew how many people we were helping, and that almost all our funds came directly from his work. I admired him.
One day he asked if someone would help him carry his stuff out to the parking lot.
I leapt at the opportunity. Yay, scutwork!
What I did: carry a three-pound briefcase for ten minutes.
What I got out of it: a ten-minute conversation with the smartest person I knew. The chance to get face time, so this man could put my name with my face.
Finally, five years later: the best job reference I ever had. The hiring manager told me about it. He called to check my reference and talked to this director. As soon as he heard my name, he shouted into the phone: “HIRE HER!”
Bless that man, and his kindness, and his long memory, and his fundraising, and everything else he ever does.
I have used this strategy over and over again, to similar effect. It’s a signal.
Setting up and tearing down, when it’s not expressly your job, says a lot about you. It says you’re willing to work hard. It says you care about the event. It says that this window of time is your priority for the day.
If you do it right, it can also show that you get along with others, think quickly on your feet, that you have good ideas and that you can be trusted to oversee a team.
Cleaning up shows that you notice the details and that you have certain standards. If those standards are shared by even one higher-up, you’ve caught their attention.
I’m working on event planning right now, and I had a delicious opportunity to do scutwork for a speaker I admire. Menial tasks: handing out forms, making sure people had pens. Suddenly we found out that we had to switch rooms, with only a very short break to clear the space and bustle off across the building. Geez, thanks for the advance warning!
The moment I heard, I started going up and down the rows, picking up people’s abandoned water bottles and other detritus. I did a perimeter check and made sure we had everything we needed, and then helped coordinate getting everything down the hall. We were set up with minutes to spare.
Nobody could have done that alone. Good preparation for the day when I’m that great speaker! These are the sorts of details I need to know in order to be prepared and versatile. This is what helps me to build my mental checklist. It’s the difference between the experienced person and the blinking ingenue.
The result of this single day spent room-running is that I’m often the first person this speaker greets at events. He knows he can rely on me; therefore, I have his total attention. I’ve never asked him for anything, but one day I might. An introduction? A word of advice? A reference? Whether he’s willing or not depends on his impression of me, on the reputation I’ve built with him.
Others are watching, they always are. The reputation you build with one person, you often build with all the people.
Of course, I also benefited simply from being in the room with a very experienced speaker. How does he do what he does? Watching someone work from the perspective of a student, protege, or evaluator is completely different from the perspective of an audience member. I don’t have to pay attention to the material as much as the delivery.
Every transaction should be mutually beneficial in some way. Give a hug, get a hug. Be a friend, have a friend. What’s funny about doing scutwork for smart people is that it’s almost impossible to even out the balance. The trivial things I do are nothing compared to what I get from my mentors.
THEY DON’T EVEN NEED TO KNOW THAT I SEE THEM AS MENTORS.
Another thing I do that serves to get me noticed is to always say thank you. 1. Express gratitude. 2. Give a compliment, a highly specific compliment. Other people tend to talk about themselves, such as “I was so excited when I heard you were coming to town.” Um, that’s half a compliment and half talking about yourself. Say something like, “Thank you so much for visiting our city, your work is incredible,” and you’ve stood out.
When you surprise them, you get to see their faces light up. Selfish, selfish, I know.
You have the power to make a single statement that will be unforgettable, possibly even life-changing, for that person. People don’t always realize that they’re doing something impressive or that their work truly matters to someone. You can be the one to tell them.
When someone is really good at something, they might be able to give the gift of an incredible insight or piece of advice in just one sentence. One comment, one remark. Sometimes even one gesture or facial expression. AHA! So that’s the secret! This is why it’s worth doing the scutwork, to get close enough to pick up that one gesture or remark.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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