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Ray's Rules

I teach courses in entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. At the end of each course, I share "Ray's Rules for Business." These are practices that I have found to be key to success in any type of organization, in any industry and at all times. They have very little to do with organizational policies and procedures. They have everything to do with building relationships, insuring credibility and enhancing trust.

1: Say Your Name

Whenever I meet someone, I, of course, tell them my name. Thereafter, every time I meet them again, and especially after not seeing them for a while, I tell them my name as soon as we meet. I do not assume that they will remember my name. So, to make it easy for them (and to let them off the hook for struggling to try to remember my name), I remind them. For example, I see the chancellor of my university about three or four times a year. I know that he is busy and comes in contact with a lot of people. Each time, I start with, "Hello, Chancellor, Ray Smilor, nice to see you again." He says, "Of course, Ray," and then we chat. I find that this rule reinforces another's recognition of me, puts the other person at ease, and facilitates their ability to more easily recall me in the future.

2: Learn Other People's Names

I hear people often say that it is impossible for them to remember the names of others. This seems lazy to me. They simply have decided not to try. Each of us appreciates it when another person calls us by name. I consider it my responsibility to do my best to remember their names. So I work at it. For my classes, I study the pictures of each student in the class before they set foot in the classroom for the first time. I surprise them by knowing their names immediately upon meeting them. For others, I mentally say the person's name at least twice in my mind upon first meeting them, and then say it at least twice again while talking with them at that first conversation. I don't always remember each and every individual, but I try to recall as many as I can. This is an effective way to make a connection, show a commitment to another and express a personal interest in those with whom we interact.

3: Treat the Administrative Assistant As Well As the CEO

In the international economic development organization that I ran in San Diego, everyone would treat me nicely. Whenever we interviewed someone to hire or discussed working with a vendor or supplier or dealt with a potential partner on a bid for a proposal, those individuals always were cordial with me. But some were not very thoughtful or respectful of Marge, who was my administrative assistant. Some would treat her rudely or condescendingly. That was a sure sign to me that I did not want that person in my organization. Our motto was, "When in doubt, out," when it came to working with others who treated those whom they perceived to be below them disrespectfully. Administrative assistants are often the gatekeepers to the CEO. Being friendly and responsive to them engenders good will and facilitates making connections to the organization. How one treats them usually reflects one's real character and demeanor.

4: Show Appreciation

Whenever I ask students in my classes "Who likes to be appreciated?" all hands go up. We all like to be appreciated. Sharing credit and acknowledging the accomplishments of others engenders trust and encourages the desire to help. Just as importantly, the simple act of saying "Thank you" often surprises the recipient. Gratitude in all its forms (like hand-written notes, small gifts, special awards) builds positive feelings and a continued willingness to help. Interestingly, the more unexpected the appreciation the greater the impact. Ewing Kauffman, who established the Kauffman Foundation which I helped to build, had a gift for showing appreciation. For example, he would write notes to the parents of new employees in which he would tell the parents what a fine son or daughter they had raised and how happy he was that their child worked in his organization. As soon as the parents got his note, they would let their son or daughter know about how much Mr. K, as he was known, appreciated them. I try to make it a point to thank others for the kinds things they do for me.

5: Keep Promises

This seems simple, but it is not. The key here is to do what you say you will do. If you promise to call someone, or arrange a lunch meeting or provide input to a report or agree to write a memo, then do it. Often we promise to do something and then we let that promise fall through a crack or worse we never actually intend to follow through at all. When we fail to do what we say we will do, trust goes down. People begin to recognize that they cannot count on us. I have become very careful about what I promise. If I do not want to do something or know that I cannot, then I don't promise that I will. Keeping your promise--no matter how small it might seem--is the most effective way to build trust and let others know that they can count on you.

6: Respond to "What's New?"

Usually when someone asks us, "What's new?", our response is "Nothing," or "Not much," or something like 'Same old, same old." This is a missed opportunity to share something important about yourself, to create interest in your personal or professional experiences, and to help others get to know you more personally. There is always something interesting, unexpected and intriguing that each of us can share with others. Whenever someone asks me, "What's new," I tell them about the class that I taught, or the trip that I went on, or my fly-fishing excursion, or an interesting person that I met. In other words, I use their question to help them know a little more about me, which in turn enriches our connection to one another. And then I will try to find out what is new with them.

7: Speak "As If"

This rule is hard. When discussing another person, I have learned how important it is to Speak As If they are standing right next to me. The requires candor and openness. If I Speak As If then I prevent gossip and help create an environment of mutual respect. If I have a problem with a person's performance or an issue with their conduct, then I pull them aside and explain my concern in private to them. I avoid telling a person one thing in front of them and another thing behind their back. If I complain about person to another individual, then two things happen. I have violated the trust of the first person. And I have caused the second person to wonder what I say about them when they are not around. To Speak As If creates trust and generates respect.

8: Build Your Network

People who are successful are effective network builders. They create connections to a wide range of individuals. Interestingly, they also become luckier people. The more diverse, heterogeneous and wide our network, the more access we have to people who can help us expeditiously solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity. In sociology, this is the process of building weak ties--that is, connections to contacts, acquaintances and colleagues who have access to information, resources and knowledge that we may not have ourselves. The ability to call on those in our network and ask favors from them increases our ability to get things done faster and more effectively. It makes us luckier!

9: Listen With Interest

We think we listen, but we often don't hear. To listen with interest means that we focus intently and completely on what a person is saying. We ask probing questions. We consciously work to understand before we try to make our points understood. Too often, in the back of our mind is our own point of view, our own conclusion, our own sales pitch, or our own argument. Listening with interest shows respect and interest, and may be the easiest way to engage others. My granddaughter, Natalie Elaine, is nine years old. When she is talking with me, she has my full and undivided attention. I want her to know that at that moment what she is telling me is the most important discussion I can possibly have. I try to lean in towards her; I comment to make sure I understand how she is feeling; I ask questions to make sure I understand what she is telling me. My hope is that if I pay genuine attention now, that she will always be interested in talking with me.

10: Provide Optimism

I think that few people follow a pessimist for very long. Not many people will want to support the person who says, "Follow me. We are all going to fail miserably!" We all need some spark of hope, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Providing optimism to me means understanding how we label something. How we label something (what we call it) affects how we feel about it (positively or negatively) and in turn influences how we perform (poorly or well). For example, a lot of people fear speaking to a group. They label public speaking as a threat (they might say something stupid or make a mistake or look uninformed). So they feel fearful and give a disappointing talk. On the other hand, if one labels a presentation as an opportunity to improve a skill, share one's ideas and interact with interested persons, then one is likely to feel better and present more effectively. There is story I like about Fran Tarkenton, the scrambling Hall of Fame quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. He lost a three SuperBowls during his career. Upon his retirement, a reporter supposedly asked him how he felt about the games he lost. Tarkenton replied that he had never lost a game although he had run out of time on a number of occasions. No wonder his teammates wanted to follow him.

These rules have worked wonders for me. They can for you too.

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