Reading the paper the other day, I came across something about a sports agent. It reminded me of a book that I always recommend to young people looking for advice on succeeding in business.
First a little background.
In 1960, a young entrepreneur by the name of Mark McCormack started a business with about $500 in capital. It grew from a one-man band to a whole new industry: sports management and sports marketing. McCormack’s company, originally called International Management Group, is now called IMG and has offices all over the world and hundreds of millions in annual revenue. McCormack led the company until his death in 2003.
His very first client was golfing legend Arnie Palmer. Soon, he had stars in every sport. McCormack was acknowledged to be the best in his business and as his success grew, he began to write books about the things he had learned in his career. One of those was, What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School. In the book, he wrote about the real elements of success you learn by doing in the classroom called life. McCormack subscribed to the philosophy of keeping things simple and using common sense in all business dealings and relationships.
In one chapter he discussed, “three hard-to-say phrases.” They include: “I don’t know,” “I need help” and “I was wrong.” Those are phrases that McCormack felt were necessary for anyone who hoped to win in business, and yet people are quite fearful of saying them.
During my career I have had the great experience of knowing and being with some of the most gifted healthcare executives in the country. In meetings and conversations with many of them, I have often heard, “I don’t know,” and it is refreshing to know that there are people mature enough to understand that admitting to ignorance of a subject doesn’t mean they will be thought of as inferior. When people feel as if they must prove they know everything, they eventually stumble and make fools of themselves.
As for “I was wrong,” McCormack wrote: “If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t trying hard enough. I believe to get ahead in business you have to be constantly testing the edge. This means that often you are going to be wrong. The good executives are right most of the time, but they also know when they are wrong and are not afraid to admit it.”
I agree with McCormack wholeheartedly. Anyone who is afraid to make mistakes is immature. “They fail to realize that making a mistake and admitting it–owning up to it–are totally separate acts,” he wrote. It is not the mistake itself, but how a mistake is handled, that forms the lasting impression.”
One of things I have learned over the past few decades of my career is to never be afraid to ask for help. It will save you countless hours of worry and in some cases, guilt. McCormack felt that those who don't ask for help are shortsighted and narrow-minded. “Asking for help is the way to learn, the way to expand your knowledge, your expertise and your value to the company,” he wrote. “It also demonstrates a willingness to work with others.”
McCormack also touched on trust as well. Most employees don’t realize how important it is to management to have employees they can trust. “People don’t like to feel they are being conned, and no one is going to support the career of a subordinate who is a little too secretive, a little too clever for his or her own good,” he wrote. “If you feel the only way to get ahead is to con the people you work for, then you’d better be very good at covering yourself because over the long term there are so many different ways you can be found out.”
McCormack added loyalty to the list of essential traits of successful people. Loyal people believe in their company, they believe in the people they work with, they believe in the products and services the company produces, and they believe in the people they report to. Without loyalty, no organization can really succeed. I would add that loyalty is a two-way street. Management must prove loyalty to employees as well as vice versa.
You can have all the talent and technical expertise in the world, but unless you have the humility and street smarts to ask for help, the courage to admit you don’t know everything and the maturity to say when you are wrong, you are probably destined for less than total success. Mark McCormack’s career and writings are proof of that.