I’ve often been asked by people looking to grow in their careers how they can learn to be more confident and courageous when reaching out and speaking to people of perceived higher status. How, they ask, was I able to learn to feel so naturally comfortable in front of just about anyone — from leaders of giant organizations to famous celebrities?
Truthfully, it’s not something I ever really thought too much about. So I will attempt to share what I have learned along the way.
Understand that we’re all just human.
People are people, no matter who they are. Others may see some of them as powerful beings, but really they’re vulnerable just like everyone else. They have their own struggles and challenges — ones only the people closest around them know about. Like the rest of us, they seek the advice of others to help them overcome their own obstacles and seek guidance to be able to survive and achieve their goals.
For example, my father was a pioneer in the health industry. And because of this, it was commonplace to have famous people dropping in and out of our Brooklyn home. My father was the ultimate host, and it seemed that everybody wanted a seat around our table. Some came for the food, but it was mostly for the conversation. One by one, they all came to escape from their own worlds, let their guard down, and refresh their views on life. In those early boyhood years, my real education came by listening to those conversations.
I would observe my father dealing with these special individuals in the most unconventional ways. Instead of being mesmerized or intimidated by them, he often felt bad for them, seeing them as locked inside a false ivory tower where they made themselves unreachable to others. My father had the ability to see past all that and connect to the real person inside. At times, in an attempt to break down their guard, he would literally start wrestling with them, just to let them know that they needed to loosen up a bit.
This experience made me realize that it really doesn’t matter who’s sitting across from you in conversation (or over the phone, text or email). It’s simply about connecting with a person in a unique way, trying to understand what they’re looking for in their lives. This applies to anybody you meet — from your neighbor to the most famous or respected actor or athlete. They’re all people who need the aid of others just as much as everyone else. And sometimes, even more so. Many of these people often have too many “yes” people around them, which makes matters even worse. And I’ve found that they find it refreshing when they meet people who tell them the honest truth, along with sharing insights or recommendations on how to better things around them.
Know (and share) your value.
From a marketing or business perspective, any good CMO, CEO or investor is always seeking new information that might help them advance their business or develop a new billion-dollar company. And why shouldn’t it be you who provides them with the knowledge and service that helps them find it?
Many people make the mistake of thinking that they need to know it all before they can start to share any of their knowledge. But that’s not the case. If you are extremely knowledgeable in one small area, that makes you a specialist on that topic and valuable to the people looking for that insight. If you have a different way of looking at things, even better.
Take the startup world. How is it that there are new companies that pop up and develop new ways of looking at age-old industries? Look at Uber and Lyft. Taxis have existed forever. How did someone think of turning every car into a taxi and doing it without owning any of the vehicles or having any drivers on staff? It’s rather simple: Some crazy person who was never taught the rules had the idea, and smart investors went along for the ride. Any good investor, CEO or CMO is constantly trying to find others who can help them find different perspectives.
So my advice to you is to be yourself, dream big and share those dreams. You never know where it will lead you. Don’t be intimidated by anyone, however seemingly successful they may be. They are a person, just like you, and they are actually looking for people like you to help them find the next big idea and continue to succeed. I wouldn’t suggest wrestling with them like my dad did, but focus on connecting to them as people first. Be yourself, and see where that takes you.