When I was young professional—just getting into the workforce, I was always intrigued by and somewhat star-struck when I saw departmental Executives, Senior VPs, and company CEOs walking around the office of where I was employed at the time. When seeing them, I used to ask myself questions like: “Man, I wonder how it feels to be in a leadership role like that?” or “How and what did they do to be in such an influential seat in the company?” I would even ask myself, “Was it their schooling or did they know someone, that knew someone?”.
Never being too afraid to ask, because I was never one to assume, and I’d rather get my answers from that individual directly, versus receiving misinformation from others. While employed at a Fortune 500 banking institution, the opportunity for me to meet the higher-ups in the company had presented itself, because my departments new launch was oncoming, and the higher-ups wanted to meet the team.
Boldly, I approached the Senior VP that was over my division at that period in time, and asked him “Sir, how did you become who you are and what did you do to get there?” He looked at me, smiled and said “No one ever asked me that. Most people that I meet for the first time just say hello and shake my hand in fear, as if I’m this esoteric being that isn’t human.” Digesting his response, and reading his demeanor—I was shocked by how casual and laid back he was. He told me to have a seat, as we were standing by my cubicle. He pulled up a chair beside me and said “It’s not about how I became who I am, or what I did. Early in my career, I knew who I was, but who I was—by my lonesome, wasn’t the man that was going to get me to where I wanted to be.”
After around 15-minutes of great dialogue with the Senior VP, we concluded our conversation by him making the statement “As I excelled in status and climbed the corporate ladder, I was pretty much elected into every role that I’ve ever been in. Not because I was the most skilled, but because I always cared for people, and people always felt that from me—even if we’d just met. I was a constant student of others—no matter who they were.” I proceeded to ask him what he meant, and he said “When I learn from people, I take a piece of who they are with me, and I add the experience and information that they shared with me, to my repertoire of skills and wisdom. This has always helped me grow as an individual.”
I looked at him and just stared, because what he had said to me was beyond profound, but I understood the essence of his message without confusion. He got up from his chair, shook my hand and said “Remember—learn from everyone, but never look to become them.” I learned a great deal of information that day, so I’d like to share with you, what was shared with me.
Here are 3 unique ways you can learn from everyone that you encounter, in efforts to strengthen your professional and personal identity:
1. Listen to hear; versus to respond or react
The old saying “People don’t care about how much you know, they just want to know how much you care” is true. So, despite how knowledgeable you may be in an area that someone is expressing concern, most people honestly don’t want your advice. They simply want to feel the empathy and compassion of you caring, and sharing their burden(s)—even if it’s just for a moment.
When they ask for advice or recommendations, that’s when you should express your credibility in the area of their concern. Understanding this, creates a greater tier of patience and restraint that most people on earth lack, simply because you understand that the moment isn’t about you. It’s about others, and about softening towards the world and towards all those that are in it.
2. Learn how to read body language as it’s communicating to you
Most people have to reflect on how people reacted, in the midst of a conversation—once the conversation has concluded or when it’s too late to say what they truly wanted to say. When you can assess the conformability or un-conformability of a person’s behaviors in real-time, not only will you realize the growth within yourself, but you’ll be more conscious of your delivery and approach on certain topics when engaging with others on a casual or professional level.
Become so good at reading the body language of others, that you subconsciously begin to feel like Neo from the Matrix. I reference Neo, because you’ll begin to see the in-between moments of life happening in slow motion, while the rest of the world is moving at warp speed—somewhat like how Neo experienced the slowing down of time in the infamous scene when he dodged a barrage of bullets at point blank range, on the rooftop.
3. Learn how to adopt mannerisms that impress you then, make them your own
Positive mannerisms range from strong/hearty handshakes, sitting firm and upright when in the presence of others, smiling with confidence and full transparency, with no regard to whether or not others can handle your radical openness.
Being consciously aware of these 3 simple tips, complemented with your efforts of applying them in all situations, will ensure the development of your personal and professional identity. When you have the mindset of always learning from others, you eventually become the masterful teacher that eventually passes the baton to the next student that’s watching and seeking to learn from you.
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