I’m excited. Granted, it is an exciting time of year, especially here in New York City. Streets are packed with people hustling and bustling from corporate meetings, Broadway shows, dinner engagements, holiday sight-seeing and seasonal shopping throughout every part of Manhattan. New York City during the holidays is electric. People are out together. And while all this energy is certainly exciting, that’s not the reason for the excitement I want to share with you right now.
I find myself embarking on new opportunities and meeting new people, that’s why I’m currently excited. For the past several weeks, I’ve found myself in front of a radio microphone, not as the interviewee, but the interviewer – and it’s been an absolute honor to do so. A Climb to the TOP: Stories of Personal Transformation is a weekly radio show on New York’s legendary talk radio station, 77WABC radio, a 50,000 megawatt station in the NY/NJ metro area. It airs every Sunday evening for thirty minutes at 9 PM and has additional listenership online and though its podcasts. The show features a diverse set of achievers from all walks of life. Overcoming adversity, career challenges, and life’s unexpected obstacles, each guest shares inspirational stories of how they have climbed their way to happiness and success. These are tales of transformation that relate to anyone striving to reach the top of their personal mountains.
You Need to Be Surrounded
When I consider where I started all those years ago as a new associate at Bloomberg and what I have been able to accomplish since, my personal transformation and progress has occurred due to the help, mentorship and interactions of/with others.
In the 1920s, the work of a Russian psychologist named, Lev Vygotsky emerged. His work helped teachers understand how children learn best. Today, he is known for his theory called, “the zone of proximal development.” His peers maintained that development stemmed largely from independent learning. Vygotsky however, stressed the role of social interaction was key to progress. He believed that community plays a central part in the process of learning anything meaningful. In other words, teaching a child to collaborate with others would be the best path for teaching them to think independently. That is the formula of success that I have found to be true: collaboration first, independence second.
Tony Robbins is a renowned author and life coach who addresses adult development underscored by a simple idea, “proximity is power.” Robbins says if you want to accelerate your goals into reality, get yourself in proximity with people who are playing the game higher than you. By surrounding yourself with people who are already successful allows you to model what is proven, helping you to hasten your own development. As they say, who you spend time with is who you become.
I experienced this early on in my career. From the start, I was surrounded by those of greater ability and presence than me. I knew it the moment I witnessed the executive of Bloomberg – it was more than their title. There was a presence – an executive presence – that they possessed. Before they said a word, their body language communicated an intensity and sense of purpose. When they spoke, it was with passion and conviction. They opened meetings with themes that grabbed our attention. They closed meetings with strong calls to action that inspired us to exceed their expectations. People hung on their every word. Whether they knew it or not, they were some of the best teachers I ever had.
I took every opportunity to surround myself with them; I watched and studied their every move and mannerism. All day people were in presentations, either giving or receiving information. Success, in my mind, seemed dependent on a person’s ability to communicate ideas with passion and conviction — inspiring those around them by establishing both trust and enthusiasm. I realized that if I didn’t adapt and learn, I’d be stuck where I was at— with little hope of advancement. I needed to be around these individuals in order to achieve greater personal heights. That’s what I want to continue to do with my radio show.
Growth Requires Real Interaction with Others
My inaugural show featured Adam Connors of NetworkWise. Adam wakes each day in the service of someone else’s success. His premier online learning platform, NetworkWise teaches people how to professionally network. He provides individuals with the tools and resources to build the confidence needed to foster world-class relationships. When talking with him in relation to the need for surrounding ourselves with others, Adam stresses that networking is important for more than just landing a job – it’s so much more than that. And while his business leverages an online platform – to reach more individuals and provide tailored learning – Adam emphasizes, nothing replaces the physical experience of interacting face to face with each other. “Scientifically we release oxytocin when we look someone in the eye, touch someone, etc. – that doesn’t happen with technology.”
Our need to interact with one another has been proven. And ironically enough, while technology provides an opportunity to connect unlike ever before, we are all disconnected and lonelier than ever before. In fact, Adam spoke to an interesting development over in the UK that I could hardly believe. Apparently, in 2017, the UK created a “Minister of Loneliness” position to combat a growing epidemic of loneliness. According to their findings, “Up to a fifth of all UK adults feel lonely most or all of the time and with evidence showing loneliness can be as bad for health as obesity or smoking…”
The impact of loneliness spills over into all aspects of life and can become a source of economic strain as employees feel less engaged and therefore, unproductive. This is a part of what NetworkWise seeks to address. In a society where nearly 90 percent of employees are feeling disengaged, there’s a huge gap in productivity and relationships that must be addressed. In addition to this engagement statistic, Adam also shared that only 30 percent of individuals feel like they have a good friend at work, which speaks to proximity and the causal effect between engagement and our relationships. When you feel connected to someone at work, you feel connected and more invested. Overall, we are struggling as a society to genuinely connect, engage, and create with each other.
What’s the Solution?
In a perfect world, we’d put down our devices. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Technology is introduced and integrated into education in the earliest years of school. And yet, where are the classes that teach social awareness or social maturity? What about how to win friends and influence people or how to connect with others on an emotional level? These fundamental skills are not commonly taught. Instead, when kids graduate into adult life they find that many of the facts they learned to get an “A” are no longer needed, but skills to effectively interact with others are.
I’ve worked as a consultant to companies throughout the world for several years. In many of these engagements, I’ve helped companies with change management and succession planning. What I’ve found is, regardless of the country, industry, or size, there are three things that are needed and wanted from top leadership. These are things that aren’t found on a resume, aren’t reflected in a GPA, and can’t be measured in an IQ test. They want someone who can stay calm under pressure, can resolve conflicts effectively, and someone who demonstrates empathetic leadership. These traits aren’t developed in a vacuum. Instead, they require deliberate practice and application with the relationships we have throughout our careers.
Too often individuals coast through their careers on technical skill and understanding, only to arrive at the threshold of leadership ill-prepared for what is expected in that role. Luckily, more and more higher education institutions are aware of this gap and recognize the need for this kind of education if they are going to send impactful individuals into the world. That’s certainly why I’m teaching at Columbia University as well as the other programs I’ve been honored to be a part of.
For Columbia’s Engineering program, the goal is to not only produce the best engineers in the industry, but leaders who will be at the forefront of change. To achieve this, Columbia has created a Professional Development and Leadership program for their School of Engineering and Applied Sciences which, “empowers and educates Columbia engineers to maximize performance and achieve their full potential to become engineering leaders of today and tomorrow.”
The solution lies in the recognition that we need each other more than not; therefore, we need to learn how to more effectively engage with one another, which requires greater communication and emotional intelligence.
Individual Success Is a Team Effort
As I’ve said many times before, we need one another in order to succeed. We can’t reach the top of our individual summits without the guidance, support, and skill of those around us. When it comes to mountaineering, you’ll notice journeys begin at a place called, base camp. It’s a staging area to assemble supplies, bond with your team, and mentally prepare for the challenges ahead. Ready to confront your fears and embark on the unknown, this feels remarkably similar to a career ascent.
Our progress in life requires others and it requires our willingness to contribute to others’ success. Mountains are not climbed alone, and neither are careers. They depend on the generosity we’re willing to extend to our colleagues, known as the Law of Reciprocity. It’s a universal understanding to explain that in order to create success, extend help to others along the way. They, in turn, will assist and inspire you to reach your career summits.
As Adam said in our interview, “It’s not about what you can get, it’s about what you can give.” Make the effort to connect more with those around you. Put your device down and engage in conversation with co-workers, family members, and strangers. Focus on improving your communication skills and place more value on genuine empathy, tolerance, and interest in others. Your success depends on it.