This is a guest post by BusinessBecause member Gerry Som
Every student is constantly thinking of ways to improve himself or herself. Nobody is born perfect, and nobody at birth receives a manual that has the title “The perfect way to live life, to achieve perfect results”. You wish it was possible, eh?! How nice if all of us knew exactly what to do, at the right time, and the right place! However, that is not the case. All of us make mistakes. Sometimes, we hurt ourselves and we hurt others, knowingly or unknowingly. It helps to get guidance from mentors - people who have failed before and learnt from their mistakes. You should mentor others yourselves, when you have something of value to offer. That is good karma, and that is life. Ask for help when you need it, and help others when you can. If there is just one magic mantra I can share for success from my experience, especially, for a professional setting, it is this: “Look good and make others look good”. When you make others look good, you begin to look good yourself!
Look Good to be Successful
Look good. Yes, look very good at all times. What does this mean? Whether you are job hunting, applying to an MBA program, applying for a bank loan, or professing your love to a girl (or a guy), portray the best image of yourself that you can, and be the best you that you can be – in all ways, physically, mentally, and socially. Portray a positive brand of yourself, your company, your employer, and your school. Some people have the misconception that you have to “keep it real”, “be yourself”, or “just go with the flow”, and be genuine at all times at work or school. No sir! I respectfully disagree. It is ok to “be yourself” when you are “by yourself”, and “keep it real” to yourself, but when you are among other people, you have to be sensitive to the feelings and thoughts of others. It may be a good idea to control your urges to “prove yourself right”, to “show your true colors”, or to “expose your soul”, in a professional setting. No, that does not mean that you are being a hypocrite or a sham. It just means that you are being appropriate, being professional, and doing what is right to succeed. Self-control is a very important quality to have. Some people have it in them, while some struggle with it. Sometimes, it is better to do nothing, rather than do something rash, that you will regret later.
I remember going to a job interview, “keeping it real”, and expressing all my beliefs about a topic about brand management, and ended up having a debate with the interviewer. The interviewer had different thoughts. She was not happy about my aggressive push for social media adoption by corporations, while she believed in using just one platform - LinkedIn. The interview bombed. I walked out of the room feeling that I had “won” the debate, but in reality, I had lost that job opportunity. I realized that it is okay for me to be “just me” in my bedroom, but when I am in an interview room, I have to “look good” to the interviewer, in the eyes of the interviewer. During an MBA interview, pay attention to what the interviewer wants, and fulfill that. If you are applying to a business school, make sure to list your strengths and your suitability, in your application. Make sure to look good in the eyes of the recruiter, by knowing in advance, what the recruiter is looking for.
Organizations and professions have rules, ethics, standards, and regulations for a reason. They believe in them, and do not like sudden change. If you want a place in their company or business school, you have to conform to their needs by looking good the way they want you to look good. It is not my job or your job to change the rules of the game, or change the world. We have to learn to adapt and live within the box, sometimes (yes, “thinking within the box” is not a bad thing, as much as the phrase “thinking out of the box” has been thrown around, everywhere). Make sure that you “look good” by conforming to the corporate culture or the business school culture - the basic norms of dignity, of decency, of codes of conduct, of laws, of policies, of values that are expected of you. Make sure that you generate a positive impression with everyone you meet.
The “Look Good” rule also holds true regarding hiding your weaknesses. Yes, honesty is a good thing, but you should not beat your image yourself or let others beat your image. Do not expose the chinks in the armor at work or in school. I heard this line somewhere: “Do you physically punch yourself in the face in public, or let others punch you? Then, why do you ridicule yourself, or let others ridicule you?” Take care of your physical appearance at all times - shave, shower, wear a nice soft perfume or deodorant, wear decent clothes and footwear, dress professionally for the occasion. Clean up your social media profile, and delete any controversial pictures or posts. Get a nice haircut, and get rid of your piercings or rings on your face, if you think that it may not be appropriate for the place where you are applying. Tattoos on exposed skin areas may not be welcome in all companies.
Learn about the local culture and try to adapt if you can. Show confidence, spread cheer, talk positively about yourself, utilize opportunities to portray yourself as a useful member of the team, and highlight your achievements. No, that is not “showing off”. Do not harbor a heightened sense of modesty - there is no need for it. Make others notice your contribution to projects or assignments, toot your horn, beat your drum, and share your successes with others. Some people are scared of the spotlight. Some people think that it is rude to talk about themselves too much during a conversation, and quickly change the topic from themselves to others. Don’t be afraid of the attention! Revel in it. Be noticed and be heard. Corporations spend millions of dollars to advertise themselves and their products, you know! Society allows you to market your personal brand too. The world is changing, and personal promotion is not taboo, anymore, more so in the West.
Make Others Look Good to be Successful
Sometimes, in the urge to prove ourselves right, we overstep the need to make others look good. But that can come back to hurt you. You see, we live in a world filled with different people of different backgrounds, experiences, and capabilities - that is what diversity is all about. It is important to have a strong cultural quotient, and know how to deal with different people. It is important to offer words of praise, encouragement, and support. Sincere complements don’t hurt. Make sure that you keep your urges to crack a joke or gossip to yourself. Do not post things on your professional groups on LinkedIn or Facebook, that may hurt others feelings. Keep the concept of diversity in mind. What is funny to one group, may be slander to another.
If you are a pre-MBA student, make the business school that you are applying for, looks good. Express to the B-school how impressed you are, by the achievements of the school, by the wonderful campus, by the great history, by their high rankings, or by their generosity to students by offering scholarships, grants, or bursaries. Use courtesy words like please, thank you etc., in abundance. Find something to complement about people, not because you are a fake or you want to flatter others, but because you mean it, and you want to make them feel good. If you are already in a job or a business school, make others around you - your colleagues, your boss, your juniors, and your clients look good.
If you are an MBA student, you will know that business schools can be a boiling pot of arguments, no joke! B schools are full of young, energetic, ambitious, and brilliant students, where each one is trying to outperform the other in debates, in grades, or in securing internships, or jobs. It has all the right mix to create explosive situations and arguments. I have been through such situations at school, and probably, you will too. If you are in a problematic situation during a team project or debate, and do not know how to deal with it, just try the magic mantra: “look good, and make others look good”. Maintain your calm, make your point, prove yourself right, but let others save face as well. It is so important to learn tact, and to find a nice way to get work done, as opposed to the nasty way. Once again, it comes down to self-control, discipline, training, and practice. You will get better with time. Get help from friends, mentors, and coaches, when you have to.
If you are a professional, making others look good can help you succeed at your workplace. I know an ex-colleague of mine, who used to make every person he met feel so good, and nice about himself or herself. It was as if he literally seduced every person he met, by making them feel special, and like he or she was the only person in a room, even if the room was filled with a hundred people. I remember thinking, this person shall never have problem finding a date, or making friends anywhere he goes. This quality comes in very handy in marketing and sales. People who are friendly, and can generate warmth and trust have higher chances of making a sale as compared to someone who is not able to build a rapport. You see, when people feel good, they look good in their own eyes, and that makes you look good in their eyes!
Disclaimers and Afterthoughts
Here are some disclaimers or musings:
(a) You may argue that one has to be real and not artificial. That we have to be ourselves, and speak our minds, because we have the freedom of speech and expression granted to us by the constitution. My question is this – should we say everything loud, just because you have the freedom to say it? When we are on the premises of a school or a company, we are on their time. Businesses like employees who can keep company secrets confidential, and who are diplomatic in dealings with other people. It is important to rein in our primal instincts, sometimes, in order to succeed in a large setting.
(b) Notice how the statements “Look good” and “Make others look good” are a little contradictory? You may argue - “How can I look good and make the other person look good at the same time in a debate? It is not possible to do so. Somebody wins, and somebody loses, and the person has to deal with it.” That precisely, is where balance is essential. That is the art of diplomacy and tact. That is what is expected of a true gentleman or a lady. That is what professionals are expected to do, and what MBA applicants, students, or graduates are supposed to do.
(c) In business strategy, we are always talking of innovation, “thinking out of the box”, and “creative abrasion” – where friction can lead to increase in creativity. You may argue that Steve Jobs would not have been successful if he had been a wimp or an extremely polite guy at work. He did not bother to make everyone “look good”. I am not saying that we have to be in agreement all the time, or we have to kill the urge to oppose somebody else’s idea during a debate, discussion, or an interview. Yes, it is important to disagree, to encourage creativity. I am merely stating that it has to be done in a professional manner. Workplace code of conduct is a huge necessity these days. We live in a world full of surveillance video cameras, cell phones with video recording capabilities, and a world with Twitter and YouTube. You simply cannot afford a foot in the mouth situation for your own sake. At the same time, you have no right to hurt someone else’s feelings, just to prove yourself right.
To end, “Look good, my friend, and make others look good”. I wish you success with your applications and with your experiences at business school, and at work!
About the Author
Dr. Gerry Som is Canadian, based in Toronto. He has a bachelor’s degree in Medicine, with over 12 years of experience in the field of healthcare, as a GP, ER doctor and in administrative roles. He is about to complete his full time MBA program at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, as a scholarship student. He recently launched a medical services business called VIKAA Incorporated, in Toronto and vouches that the MBA experience has changed his life immensely, for the better.