I’ve had the privilege, over the past forty years, of consulting with and advising very successful people. They have taught me much, and have given me the opportunity to observe exactly how they became successful. Probably the most important thing I learned, from them, was the difference between consciously competent individuals, and unconsciously competent people. And the most surprising and illuminating lesson I learned, was that the vast majority of successful people had little or no conscious knowledge of what they did that created their success. They know lots about their profession, their technical acumen, their skills with their hands, and the services and goods they sold. And when I asked them to tell me why they felt they had achieved great success, their answers, almost universally, had everything to do with “things,” and almost nothing to do with them.
A conscious competent knows, precisely, why what they do, works. And they know this, because they have studied the most important facet of who they are; their impact on others. They know what it feels like to share interpersonal space with them, and they know what they do that establishes an emotional connection, quickly and deeply. Very important point here. I am not talking about a script (or schtick) that we give people in business, to moderate their discomfort and give them a false sense of confidence. I am talking about a presence and sense of self that puts others at ease and generates curiosity; and equally important, pushes others away. (Conscious competents are clear about who they wish to have a relationship with, and who they do not. They fully understand that discrimination is a prerequisite to success and quality of life.)
Let me give you an example. When I sit down to work with a client (or deliver a keynote), everything I do is intentional. That does not mean pre-planned. I have not rehearsed what I’m going to say, nor do I have a practical goal in mind when I begin the interaction. My only intention, is to have the client experience me as confident, articulate, opinionated, ruthlessly honest, and challenging. I purposely want to make it clear that I am not there to make the client comfortable. The exact words I use, may differ from client to client, or milieu to milieu; but the impact is identical – here’s someone I can trust to tell me the truth about me, someone who will put the relationship on the line if it’s going nowhere, and someone I respect, if not always like. I have operated this way because it makes my work enjoyable, low stress and very gratifying. I have seen lots and lots of people change; getting more satisfaction out of their work and personal lives, and I cannot imagine doing anything else.
Unconscious competents put a lot out, to get very little. Since they don’t know exactly what works, they spend inordinate amounts of time reinventing the wheel; trying desperately to figure out what they need to say or do, to entice people to deal with them. I can remember when it dawned on me, that if it was that hard to get someone interested in working with me, I was either meeting the wrong people, or I was clueless about who I was and how I could shape my impact to get the results I wanted. We spend much too much time, in our lives, trying to be someone other than ourselves. I leave you with one of my favorite quotes:
“Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Taken” Oscar Wilde