One of the questions I am eternally engaged with in my work is the search for “the special sauce” – the difference that makes the difference between the good and the great and between the one-hit wonder and the person or company who achieves long-term sustainable success. There are any number of books on the market that attempt to reverse-engineer the answer to this question by studying what high-achieving individuals and companies do differently and offering up a behavioral menu of options, ranging from Steven R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to the five keys to corporate turnaround outlined in Jim Collins business classic Good to Great.
If the books are to be believed, successful people and companies are aligned to a higher goal. They’re proactive and realistically optimistic. They’re disciplined yet agile, efficient and effective, putting first things first but making sure the little things are taken care of along the way. They value people over profits while never losing sight of the bottom line. Above all, they’re life-long learners.
But while I have no doubt that many of these analyses are accurate, to my mind they are also missing the point. Certain types of behavior may consistently be visible in great performers and high achieving businesses, but attempting to mimic those behaviors rarely leads to the same results over time.
I had a coach once who told me that “If I throw a brick through a window and the window breaks, then it’s only logical that if you throw the same brick through a similar window that window will break too.” He then shared with me a series of practices that to his mind had enabled him to become an industry leader. And I really did try. But when those behaviors failed to bring me the kind of instant impact I was hoping for (not to mention making my life a living hell of consistently forcing myself to do things that felt completely unnatural to me), I had a bit of an epiphany.
When I was in high school, I had a physics teacher who used a rather crude metaphor to illustrate this point. “If you kick a football,” he said, “and I know the rate of acceleration, speed, angle of approach and factor in altitude and wind, I can predict where that football will land within inches. But if you kick a dog, there’s no telling where it will end up.”
In other words:
Human beings don’t operate according to the same principles as inanimate objects.
When I took a look back at what it was that actually drew me to work with that coach in the first place, I quickly realized it had little to do with his reputation or what he did with me in our initial meeting but everything to do with the way I felt afterwards. As I told my business partner after that first meeting, “I got within the first five minutes that this guy would take a bullet for me, but I have no idea why.”
Here’s another example. Within the coaching profession, one of the current buzzwords is “service”. Having a “service mentality”, “selfless service”, and “serving vs. selling” are phrases that show up as the key to success in more and more blogs and books on a seemingly weekly basis.
And again, there is a certain truth in that. The best coaches serve their clients consistently, tirelessly, and even before they’re being paid for it. But where does this focus on service really come from?
When I’ve looked behind the curtain of the best and most impactful coaches I’ve met, studied, trained, and worked with, there is one consistent element that is always present regardless of personality, methodology, or training.
At first blush, that may seem too simple or obvious to be significant. Of course they care – that’s why they got into a helping profession in the first place. How could caring be a differentiator in sustainable business success?
But if you take a look at any truly successful individual or company, you can feel the care they put into what they do. They care about the quality of their work and they care about the quality of your experience. It shows up in the way they treat their customers and it shows up in the way they treat their people.
My wife and I seem to have spent much of the past three decades in a perpetual state of home improvements. Over the years, this has put us in contact with dozens of contractors, plumbers, electricians, and handymen. Most of them are competent to do the job they were hired to do. But the ones who care are always obvious.
They show up (mostly) on time. They stay until the job is finished. They take pride in their work. And because they care, they’re continually in demand.
In part two of this blog, we’ll take a look at what care really is, where it comes from, what gets in the way of it, and how to nurture it in yourself and everyone you work with.
But in the meantime, contemplate this question:
If you cared even 5% more about your customers or clients, the quality of your work, the people on your team and the impact you were having in the world, what would be different?
Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!
With all my love,