Advice about Business

1)      One of the hardest, and most important, things to do is to understand your own strengths and weaknesses as others see them, then find a role that plays to your strengths.

2)      Some fields are known to be highly lucrative – or sexy for other reasons, such as power or prestige; these fields attract the toughest competition. My longtime business partner sometimes jokes that he started our business – in a decidedly prosaic field – “because lots of other people were trying to cure cancer.”

3)      You want a role in which the quality of your efforts is magnified by financial or operating leverage, rather than one in which the only way to make more money is to work longer hours.

4)      If you work for a big company, try to get to the heart of the enterprise; you want to be, and to be seen as, essential to the company’s success.

5)     The math of business is rarely complex; the human equations almost always are.

6)     Listen before you speak: it’s the most efficient way to learn what the other person is thinking; knowing that can only help you.

7)     Leadership within a business generally depends more on the respect for or fear of you that others have than on titles. I have known many totally ineffectual people with big titles, and powerful ones with lesser titles; My business partner’s fine expression for this phenomenon is: “Power is more often taken than conferred.”

8)      A leader shows passion and provides direction. A follower does what he’s told and no more.

9)     Try to understand the world through the eyes of your boss (if you have one), your subordinates (same), and those with whom you are working or negotiating. This sounds a lot simpler than it is, because we come at situations with widely varying cultural, personal and business expectations.

10)    Associate yourself closely with those who think differently and have different skills than you do; you can cover for each other’s weaknesses in ways that those who think the same, can’t.

11)    Behave toward others as if you like them all personally; courtesy is the lubricant of commerce. This is particularly difficult, and particularly important, when you have been mistreated by somebody; it does you no good for those who have mistreated you to know that you hold them in low esteem. Which doesn’t mean you don’t, it just means you don’t show it.

12)    Ask for advice and other favors that are easy for the person being asked to give; powerful people end up feeling more committed to supporting those who showed them respect by asking for such help.

13)   The most valuable interpersonal currency in business relationships is trust. Most people come to trust, and truly rely upon, a comparatively small number of colleagues. With trust comes a two-way bond of loyalty that enables power to be delegated and decisions to be made efficiently. Trust is hard to earn, and of the highest value.

14)   Do stuff. A lot of people are strangely passive about their jobs.

15)   Take risks.

16)   A successful entrepreneur carefully calculates risks. No risks = no entrepreneurs; no careful calculations = failure.

17)   Admit and learn from your mistakes. Few do.

18)   When possible, and within reason, surprise people with your generosity. If you exceed people’s expectations, most will be determined to repay you with a fierce loyalty.

19)   Bend over backwards to help those whom you like or respect who have lost their jobs or had other major reverses; when they get back on their feet they will remember the surprisingly few who did so.

20)   If you land a Big Job, suddenly, your jokes will seem funnier and your observations much wiser; your calls will be returned promptly and people will be eager to see you. When you sell, retire or get fired, not so much (other than salespeople, of course). Try to separate your circumstances from your sense of self-worth.

21)   To remain grounded, unplug from work once in a while. Recently, I told a close friend/colleague who is an observant Jew that I am more than a little jealous of his strict Shabbat observance – he has the perfect excuse for a day with no business, electronics or telephone calls every week.

22)   Jealousy about how much the other guy is making from a deal or situation will rarely help you analyze its effects on you or your company.

23)   Work hard; there is no substitute for diligence.

24)   Your reputation is your most valuable asset.


M.H. Johnston 5/31/14

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