Ever wonder why some people who have the same level of technical skill and ability as you do seem to catapult forward fast while you stay stagnant, at the same level or compensation, for years? As a career and leadership coach, I’ve connected with many professionals around the globe who, while extremely talented and accomplished, don’t seem to achieve the high-level success, impact and recognition they feel they deserve. And they are often extremely confused as to why this is happening.
To explore more about behaviors and traits that can propel us forward quickly and powerfully in our careers, I caught up with Steve Herz this month, who has a new book on just this topic. In Don’t Take Yes For an Answer: Using Authority, Warmth and Energy To Get Exceptional Results, Herz explores how we can catapult our careers and lives forward with three key communication strategies―authority, warmth, and energy, and how we often need some tough critique and feedback to let us know how to shift our ways for more success
Herz is President of The Montag Group, a sports and entertainment talent and marketing consultancy. He is also a career advisor to CEOs, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and young professionals. Prior to joining TMG, Steve was the President and Founding Partner of IF Management, an industry leader whose broadcasting division became one of the largest in the space, representing over 200 television and radio personalities. The agency represents some of the biggest names in sports and news media, including NBC Sports Mike Tirico, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and Dan Shulman and CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward.
Here’s what he shares:
Kathy Caprino: You argue that we don’t get enough honest feedback at work, so it’s crucial to proactively ask your boss how you’re doing. Is this especially true right now, when we’re all working remotely and lacking valuable face time? What’s your advice on how to ask for feedback?
Steve Herz: We should be trying to get feedback all the time, pandemic or not. For reasons I explore in the book, we get a lot of positive feedback that we don’t actually deserve. Mixed messaging, or flat-out omissions, have generally replaced direct dialogue and tough conversations in the workplace and in nearly every space we inhabit, resulting in a lifetime of what negotiator Christopher Voss calls “the counterfeit yes,” in which we hear a fuzzy “yes” all while life is actually delivering an all-caps “NO”:
You didn’t get the promotion; you didn’t get the sale; you didn’t get the girl or guy. You can’t trust all the yesses you hear. In fact, if you’ve checked off all the obvious boxes necessary for a stellar career in your field – education, credentials, years of experience – but you still aren’t where you want to be, that lack of honest feedback is probably part of what’s holding you back.
It’s critical to ask for—and be open to—an honest assessment of your performance. And this is more important than ever right now, given the massive unemployment we’ve seen and the increased job insecurity. So, if your company is thinking (as many are) about layoffs, you want to make sure there’s nothing about your performance that you’re blissfully unaware of – that could doom your immediate future.
When you ask for feedback, make it simple. Ask – “what is one thing you think I could improve upon?” This is especially important if you usually only receive positive feedback from your manager. Or make it fun – if the situation is appropriate – and ask, “if you were a genie, what is one thing you would change about me that would improve my performance?”
For example, a young agent in our company who, after a few weeks as a trainee, asked me how he was doing. I told him he was doing great, to which he said, “Oh no, I’m not taking that from you. I know the book you are writing. And I hear how to talk to other people. I want to know what you think I’m not great at.”
So, I told him he said the word “like” way too often and that the filler word compromised his authority, especially as a young professional. He asked in a way that showed he was sincere about improving and saw it as an opportunity to grow and advance his life and career. I advise everyone to do the same. Look at feedback as a gift.
Caprino: The premise of your book is that the number one thing that determines your success is not your education or skills, but your ability to connect with people. I think we’re all really longing for that connection right now, as we’ve been social distancing for months. What’s the role of “connectability” in one’s career success, and what are its key elements?
Herz : In my work, I discuss the 85/15 rule. Based on a seminal 1918 study by The Carnegie Foundation, this rule states that only 15% of your professional success is correlated to your technical (hard) skills. In my view, the huge overlooked 85% is that ability to connect, persuade, and gain influence and respect from your boss, colleagues, clients.
The key elements of “connectability” are authority, warmth and energy, aka AWE. If you’re competing against people in your field who are all roughly perceived as equal in the technical skills, your AWE is the only differentiator. AWE is about your ability to have that technical substance and the stylistic sizzle; to be seen as one who knows their stuff, is trustworthy and makes others want to follow their lead. There is no other path to maximum influence without those traits.
Caprino: Unemployment is at a historic high right now. What’s your advice to people who have lost their jobs or who are worried about holding onto the job they still have?
Herz: If you are unemployed, try to make sure you have skills that are in demand. While technical skills only account for 15% of your success, that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. It’s crucial to have good technical skills – but the point of the 85/15 rule is that they only get you a seat at the table.
If you realize that your skills aren’t in demand or up to date, the first step is to retrain yourself with the myriad of free or low-cost tools available online. And if you still have a job, make yourself as indispensable as possible. Stay in close communication with your customers, your colleagues, and your manager and make sure you’re doing your job effectively and with very little friction. This is not the time to be the squeaky wheel. And try to use whatever free time you have (outside of family and other key interests) to improve your skill set, as well as your authority, warmth and energy. If you show up (remotely) as a better you, your bosses will notice.
Caprino: As our work interactions move from in-person to video, what should we be paying attention to as we try to connect with people when we don’t have the benefit of being together in the same room?
Herz: Pay attention to the way people are reacting to you. It’s harder to gauge this when you’re communicating virtually, yet you will still receive responsive cues from others. If you notice someone tuning out – like when they stop looking at the camera, start typing, or they’re not nodding at all or asking any questions – you may have to turn up your energy to keep their attention.
Try speaking more loudly or in faster bursts or show that you’re emotionally committed to your message. And sometimes calling out someone and soliciting their opinion also keeps them on their toes and energizes them. If they are not responding, you may have to become more inquisitive and interactive. It’s much easier to lose someone’s attention over Zoom, so it’s paramount to use every tool you have to keep them engaged.
Caprino: You’re an agent for some of the most successful broadcast journalists in the country. How did you come to identify these three elements as the key to getting ahead?
Herz: It was an evolutionary process. I started out working exclusively with sports broadcasters and media talent to other professionals in various fields because I discovered that the key to becoming a superstar manager, salesperson, or CEO is no different than the key to becoming a superstar broadcaster: you have to get your audience, of one or a million, to trust and believe in you.
Over the past two decades, AWE has become the prism through which I observe, assess, coach and grow every single one of my clients. I listen for it when we’re analyzing recordings of their voice, and I look for it while observing them perform simulated interviews, meetings, or sales calls. It takes a special person with a thick skin to work with me. I’m always respectful, but I pull no punches. Because of this, I’ve been hired and fired in the same day by people who were too accustomed to hearing “yes.”
But those professionals who have stuck with me, who have refused to take “yes” for an answer, have seen their stars rise. Anyone in any job can do the same.
Caprino: Is there one element of AWE that is most commonly underappreciated?
Herz: Energy is both underappreciated and probably most misunderstood. Energy is not just your energetic output. It’s the dynamic you create in your interactions. It’s most important to have the kind of energy that energizes other people. And you can sometimes energize others with relatively low energetic output. It’s a question of having the presence of mind to understand what is necessary in the moment. One example is Jeff Feig, who rose to the executive suite and built a billion-dollar business at Citibank based on his key strength: listening to and acknowledging others. He had record low turnover in his tenure because his team felt so energized by his caring ways. It is counterintuitive to think of a low-key person like Feig as energizing. But when I spoke to many of his colleagues, that was the unanimous feedback from all of them.
For more information, visit stevenherz.com.
To build a more impactful career, work with Kathy Caprino in her Career Breakthrough programs and read her new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss.