Why do you think there are so many would-be go-to people who don’t succeed? Why are there so many wannabes, imposters, and most of all, sometimes or episodic (and sadly, even former) go-to people?
The answer takes us back to the beginning: because they want so much and try so hard to be go-to people that they fail to deal with the hard realities.
- Positive attitude, hard work, personal responsibility, and being great at your job are just table stakes.
- No matter how creative and tenacious you may be, you still have to do things by the book and follow orders.
- You cannot ever do everything for everybody. Overpromising may please people up front, but if you fail to deliver, that’s all they will remember.
- You must make choices about what you are not going to do, so that you get the right things done. Making no choice is still a choice, and no choice is almost as bad as a bad choice.
- To make good choices, you must do your due diligence, the sooner the better, every step of the way.
- You can’t be great at everything, so you need to build a repertoire of things you are known for consistently doing very well and very fast.
- You only get credit for the results you deliver. You get a lot more credit when you deliver on time and on spec.
- People are your number-one asset, but they are also very high maintenance, so managing relationships is mission critical.
Would-be go-to people should imitate what the most successful go-to people actually do every day in the real world to (1) win real influence, (2) beat overcommitment, and (3) get as many of the right things done the right way as possible. Here’s a credo of the successful go-to person:
Know the distinction between real and false influence.
Understand and believe in the peculiar mathematics of real influence versus false influence. Real influence is the power you have when other people really want to do things for you, make good use of your time, and contribute to your success. The only way to build real influence is to truly believe, at your core, in the peculiar math: the more you serve others by doing the right thing for the long term, moment by moment, adding maximum value in every single interaction, the richer you become in real influence.
Know what’s required and what’s allowed.
Know up and down the chain of command—before you try to work things out at your own level. You have to go vertical before you go sideways (or diagonal): ensure alignment on priorities, ground rules, marching orders, and every next step through regular structured communication up, down, sideways, and diagonally.
Know when to say no.
And know when to say “not yet” and how to say yes. Remember, “yes” is where all the action is. Every yes is your opportunity to add value for others and build up your real influence. Don’t waste your yeses. Set up every yes for success with a concrete plan—a clear sequence, timing, and ownership of all the next steps.
Work smart by professionalizing everything you do, specializing in what you do best, and steadily expanding your repertoire of specialties. Know what you want to be known for. That means mastering best practices, repeatable solutions, and job aids.
Finish what you start.
The busier you are, the less you can afford to be a juggler. If you are always juggling, you will inevitably drop the ball. You have to be able to handle a long and diverse list of responsibilities and projects, but you have to execute one thing at a time. Keep a long to-do list and schedule. But break work into small doable chunks and find gaps in your schedule for focused execution time. You can only finish one thing at a time.
Keep getting better and better at working together.
Lift people up and they will lift you up, too. Relationships are the key, but don’t focus on building relationships through politicking and personal rapport. Focus your relationship building on the work, and the work will go better. When the work goes better, the relationship will go better. How? Celebrate success with a supersonic thank-you. Channel finger-pointing into continuous improvement through after-action reviews. Plan the next collaboration by looking around the corner together.
Promote go-to-ism throughout your organization.
Be a go-to person. Find go-to people wherever you need them. Build new go-to people whenever you have the chance. That’s how you build the upward spiral of real influence, the power that people give each other because they want each other to be powerful. Go-to-ism is the art of being (nearly) indispensable at work.
Go-to-ism works for people in organizations of all shapes and sizes; whether you are higher up, lower down, or somewhere in the middle; at a desk or on your feet. It works whether you are an individual trying to navigate the gig economy, an organizational leader in the collaboration revolution, or a foot soldier working on a cross-functional team.
You might be tempted to keep these ideas and habits to yourself, to help give you a strategic advantage. Go ahead and try, but you probably won’t be able to.
Because people will notice and ask, “What is it you’re doing? You are getting so much done, so much faster and better, but you seem to have so much more control over your time, your assignments, and so much more choice over who you are working with. Everybody seems to want to work with you. What gives?”
You could try to keep it a secret, just among you and your primary collaborators. And maybe that would give you and your growing network of preferred customers an advantage, at least for a while.
But then others will notice even more. People will keep asking. Word is going to spread. More people you work with will start following your example and the example of your growing network. And that helps create more go-to people and makes your work easier and better.
Why would you want to keep it a secret? Go-to-ism could start to redefine the culture of your team, your department, maybe even your whole company. It could spread to your home life and your family and friends. Soon the goodwill and virtuous cycle of go-to-ism could start jumping across state lines.
Who knows? Go-to-ism could become a movement.