Lorenzo Gomez started off his career stocking vegetables in a grocery chain in south Texas. The path between where he started and where he is today – the Chairman of both the largest co-working space in Texas and the 80/20 Foundation – is littered with golden nuggets that any new graduate would be smart to pick up and use.
Join me as I explore the 12 main principles Gomez learned along the way.
Section 1: Creating Your Personal Board of Directors
The first three principles are about assembling what Gomez calls your own Personal Board of Directors.
Gomez learned the concept of a board of directors while he was at the company Rackspace – a multi-billion dollar web hosting company.
He was working for incredibly smart and accomplished people, including the chairman of Rackspace Graham Weston. When Gomez – only a few years removed from stacking groceries – learned that even Weston reported to a board of directors, he says it was like unlocking a bonus level of a video game.
In the same way a successful company has a board of directors looking out for its best interests, you can have a personal board of directors looking out for you.
Principle I: Your Deputies Love You
There are many reasons that a personal board of directors is important to your success.
First and foremost, you want multiple people on your board because no one person can fill all the roles you need in your life – not even your wife or favourite parent.
Second, we crave community and closeness as human beings. Having people you can open up to creates a structure in your life that otherwise you’d be unable to tap. People often say to leaders that it’s lonely at the top. When you start your career, you are going to learn that it’s lonely everywhere.
Third, your board of directors will be there to help you make better decisions, and see the things that you would otherwise miss.
What Kind of People Make the Best Board Members?
There are three things that you’ll want to consider when choosing your board members.
First, you want to surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart. This goes double for your board members.
Second, you’ll want to choose people who have expertise in the areas you lack. You want people who can give you different perspectives than you’d otherwise have on your own.
Third, you also want to choose people who accept who you are as a person. Remember, you need the social-emotional support of your board members as much as you need their expertise.
Principle II: Who You Hang Out with Matters
You’ve probably heard the Jim Rohn saying that “we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.”
So, just as you need to choose your personal board of directors carefully, you also have to choose your friends and mentors carefully.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to break up with friends who are no longer good influences on your life and career.
Principle III: Crushes Are Not Mentors
Another important type of person you’ll want in your life is a mentor. A mentor is somebody who (a) has domain expertise that you want to develop, (b) is willing to share that expertise with you, and (c) believes in your potential.
As you start your career, you’ll need to avoid the trap of thinking of “crushes” as mentors. Being cool, popular, or any other quality that isn’t related to expertise in a field that will help you in your career, does’t count.
Most importantly, mentors are people who have considerable experience in their fields and can teach you things that you wouldn’t be able to learn in a textbook.
Section 2: Understanding How Business Works
Now that we’ve covered how important it is to surround yourself with good people, let’s move on to some truths about the business world that they won’t teach you in school.
Principle IV: It’s Not What You Know, but Who
Gomez recounts the time when he got one of his first jobs strictly by trading on the social currency his brother had built up as a hard worker.
Many times in life you will be afforded opportunities strictly because of the people you know and who will vouch for you.
It’s not what you know, but who you know that matters. This is even more true these days because companies are putting even more emphasis on hiring people with high emotional intelligence and work ethic, knowing that anybody can be taught the technical skills required to be successful.
This has a few implications, but none are more important than understanding that you need to build a good reputation.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to associate yourself with A-players. When you are in a new job or role, find out who the A-players are, and then learn their tricks and associate with them.
Principle V: Stand Out from the Competition
If you are just starting out in your career, and you don’t have a reputation yet, all is not lost.
As Steve Martin once implored us, you need to “be so good they can’t ignore you.”
There are a few things you can start working on today to stand out from the competition.
First, you can specialise in a few skills. If you can become the go-to person in your office or professional network for an in-demand skill, you’ll start to earn a reputation.
Second, you can do things that differentiate you from the other people around you. Gomez tells the story of how he started to stack the lettuce as a pyramid while working at the grocery store. People started to notice the little things he did that went above and beyond and sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference.
Third, always look for a job that is close to the customer. That’s because the further away you are from the customer, the more expendable your job will be – especially in hard times. If you ever get offered a job that seems too fun or too good to be true, find a way to turn it down.
Principle VI: Dance with the One Who Brought You
When you join a business, you’ll learn that in many ways it’s a lot like high school. Choosing which clique you are going to join will be in your career network forever.
As Gomez points out, loyalty is the glue that holds networks together and can often be the catalyst to open new doors in your career. In short, loyalty is a word you need to get comfortable with if you want a long and successful career.
Carefully consider the cost of your loyalty. What does somebody need to do in order to earn it? Once you’ve determined the answer, don’t compromise.
At some point in your career, your loyalty is likely to be tested in the form of a job offer to leave your current role for more money. Unless you need the extra income because of extraordinary circumstances in your life, job hopping for more money isn’t a good career move. Especially if your current boss spent some of their reputation currency to bring you aboard.
The right time to leave is when you find an opportunity that will teach you new skills that you can’t acquire at your current place of employment.
Principle VII: No Man Is an Island
As Gomez explains, there’s a lie that we see in all business success stories – that behind every epically successful business, one person did it all.
That’s just not true. Not for Apple or Facebook, and certainly not for you. In order to succeed in your career, you need to learn how to work on a team.
The first job you have when joining a new team is figuring out what you bring to the table beyond what’s on your job description. Find as many ways as possible to make yourself useful to your team and you’ll eventually be accepted.
The next thing you need to do when you join a team is to figure out its social contract. These are the unspoken rules that govern the conduct of the team. For instance, at Rackspace Gomez quickly learned that if you wanted help from the engineering team, you needed to ask nicely.
Violating these unspoken agreements will cause you to be rejected like the human body rejects an organ transplant.
Section 3 – Living In The Real World
The real world doesn’t operate like the school world, and there are some things that your teachers won’t teach you.
What follows are some of the things that you’ll be wise to learn before you learn them the hard way.
Principle VIII: Have a Servant’s Heart
Having a servant’s heart means wanting to help people. In the context of your career, this means helping your customers. There are a couple baselines for having a servant’s heart.
First, always give the customer what they pay for.
Second, remember that it doesn’t cost anything to smile. Serving your customers with a smile on your face goes a long way.
Third, move with a sense of urgency. Moving swiftly with a sense of purpose is the fastest way to show a customer you have a servant’s heart.
Principle IX: Everyone’s in Sales
Gomez tells the story of listening to Graham Weston deliver a speech to the graduating class at Texas A&M where he said:
“Everybody’s in sales. Whether you know it or not, even if you aren’t selling a product, you have to sell yourself and your ideas.”
It’s a great principle that holds true in business and life. There are a few keys to making this work for you in your career.
First, think service first, and sales second. You’ll always be better at selling your products, ideas and yourself by doing it this way.
Second, never sell an idea with “I think.” The surest way to kill all of your persuasive powers is to convey any doubt in your pitch.
Third, understand the power of story. As human beings, we are wired to listen and respond to stories. Always use a story to set up your pitch.
Principle X: Don’t Spend What You Earn
The last thing you want to worry about as you are building your career or business is your personal finances.
There are a couple of surefire ways to create this unneeded stress in your life.
The first is to spend all of what you earn. When you start making your first real paycheck, you’ll be tempted to start spending lavishly. Gomez recounts the story of him going out and buying a sports car after his first big raise at Rackspace. Don’t do that.
The second is to lend money to the people you are closest to. If you are going to give money to friends and family, always do it with no strings attached. You will almost never get paid back and the stress it will cause in your relationships isn’t worth the hassle.
Avoid those two things like the plague and you’ll be off to a good start.
Principle XI: You Can Only Control Your Attitude
Things will go wrong in your business and your life. There’s no way to avoid it, but what you can do is control your attitude when it happens.
Gomez makes that point that he’s failed at this principle more than he’s succeeded, but the times he’s succeeded have been some of the best times in his work life. When he’s failed, they have been some of his worst.
A specific way to control your attitude is through the practice of humility. The essence of humility, Gomez says, is genuine interest in others. Taking a genuine interest in other people is a choice that you get to make on a daily basis.
Principle XII: When to Be the Boss
There will come a point in your career where you’ve developed enough skills and experience that you will start to think about starting your own company. The fact that there are significant ups and downs in every career will only amplify these thoughts.
This is an incredibly difficult choice.
Sometimes the right choice is to suck it up and stick with your job. The odds are stacked against your new business succeeding and even the ones that do succeed struggle far more than you’ll ever know from the outside.
However, if you know that deep down that you won’t be able to look yourself in the mirror if you don’t give it a shot, that’s the time to quit your job and become your own boss.
I remember when I reached that point. Interested to hear from others who also took the decision to start their own business and how it’s gone.
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