Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Keith Ferrazzi's Dream Maker Formula

Got a Dream? Here's how to make it happen.
By Keith Ferrazzi
From Reader's Digest
January 2007

The Power of Relationships

A few years ago, I was in New York City to advise two large banks on the secret to success in business. On the way in from the airport, I struck up a conversation with my taxi driver.
Tony was from India. He had studied to be a marine biologist but could not get a decent job in that field here. He was doing okay driving a cab, he said, "but in coming all this way, I had hoped to do better than just get by."

The more we talked, the more I realized that the counseling I provide to corporate executives also applies to average people like Tony. Like too many of us, Tony thought that being self-reliant meant never asking for help. But we need to nurture relationships in order to achieve our goals.

Tony liked to chat with his customers, yet he didn't want to bother them. I urged him to give it a try.

And he did. Not only did his customers ask that he take them to the airport at the end of their trip, they recommended him to their friends. Soon he had a long list of regulars and was able to buy his own Town Car, then a second. He had to hire a friend to help with the overflow.

Each of us contains seeds of greatness, which can be expressed in myriad ways, from starting a business to giving back to our community to raising the next generation of leaders. Life is all about finding that seed and nurturing it to its full growth. I know it's possible, because I'm living proof.

I am the son of a steelworker and a cleaning woman. My dad would come home, his hands scraped and dirty, and say, "I don't want this for you, Keith. You need a great education."

Although my father didn't know the CEO of his company, he wasn't afraid to introduce himself and ask for his advice. The CEO liked my dad's moxie and used his influence to get me a scholarship at one of the best private schools in the country. I went on to Yale University and Harvard Business School. Soon I was the youngest chief marketing officer in the Fortune 500.

I learned at a young age that the secret to success lies in the power of relationships. Consider the people who've helped you along the way as coaches. Corporate execs, celebrities and athletic aces routinely hire "life coaches" to help them reach their goals or solve their problems.

But you don't need to hire a life coach. You can become your own. It won't cost you a penny, and it's easier than you think.


What do I really want?

Jennifer was about to give birth to her first child and had decided to turn her home office into a nursery. A self- employed Web designer, she was delighted about the baby but afraid of being isolated and losing the self-esteem that came with having built her own business. "I know I should be happy, and I am -- but I'm not," she confided. "I'm excited about starting a family, but I want my life too, and I want the community that has come with working."

What do I want? It's a simple question, yet many of us aren't sure. But -- surprise! -- it doesn't have to be all that difficult to answer. It's a matter of focus.

Have you ever looked through a telescope at something? You find a reference point to home in on, then fiddle with the settings. At first, it's too close, then it's too far away, finally it's just right. The point is, it takes many adjustments to bring the subject into focus. If you want to look at something else, the process starts again.

Goal-setting is the same way. Don't worry if at first you don't know exactly what you want to do. Just don't make the mistake of never committing to anything. Sometimes the answer is very simple: Just pick something!

Dr. Mark Goulston, author of Get Out of Your Own Way at Work, suggests you "look back in order to look forward." Examine your calendar at day's end during a typical week and grade each appointment or listing on a scale of -3 to +3, where -3 means "If I never do this again, it will be too soon" and +3 means "I could do this all day long, and I can't wait to do it again." Once you identify the recurring themes, you'll be able to better focus your dreams.

If you're still stumped, ask yourself two questions: What would I truly regret if I did not achieve it? What would I do if I knew I could not fail?

Don't be afraid to dream big -- or small. And don't let others define your success. Once you know what you want, just follow the next three steps to achieve it.


Get out of your own way

Everyone has a habit that once served us well but is now just dragging us down. It might not be drink or drugs, but it's an addiction nonetheless. Procrastination is an addiction. So is being defensive. Or refusing to accept responsibility for your mistakes.

My addiction was conflict avoidance. When I was growing up, I learned to give people (Mom, Dad, teachers, coaches) what they wanted, and I was rewarded -- pats on the back, good grades, team captain. But the flip side was that I didn't learn to ask what I, Keith, wanted for myself.

I was unable to say to a friend, "I'd rather not." Or to someone I was dating, "We should end this already." Or to an employee, "John, your performance is not acceptable."

It was only after I diagnosed this behavior that I could enlist friends and supporters to help me change it. They practiced with me on what to say to John and how to say it, paving the way for a productive, and easier, conversation. As a result, John altered his behavior and became a more effective member of the team.

Just as you may not know the negative behavior holding you back, you may be missing the positive trait that can propel you forward. Identifying your strengths is as important as naming your weaknesses because, like it or not, you're guided by these opposing forces.

I always joke that if you can't think of a behavior you want to change, I'm sure your spouse or a trusted friend will have a few ideas. Likewise, they're also the ones who'll tell you what they most admire about you.

What's the point of all this? There are few things that will make you feel as bad as blowing an opportunity because of a self-defeating behavior. Conversely, few things will make you feel as good -- and will gain you the respect of others -- as identifying and overcoming one of them.


Help others, help yourself

Kim (not her real name) was in danger of being fired from her job at a small marketing firm. She was a whiz at Internet research but was such a perfectionist that she'd try to cover up her mistakes. She'd ask her boss for advice, then argue with him if she disagreed. With a pink slip almost guaranteed, Kim knew she needed help to save herself from herself. It was time to create her own dream team of advisors.

The most dramatic and enduring life changes often occur through community-based initiatives, like Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous, where there are multiple people invested in your success and to whom you feel accountable. It makes sense to apply the same principles that have been so successful in dealing with self-destructive habits when creating your own self-guided community for personal growth.

Your "dream team" works best with about five people, all of whom care enough about you to be ruthlessly honest. Select people with diverse backgrounds -- your softball buddy, maybe your accountant and someone whose behavior you admire or whose position you aspire to. Not only will a diverse group come up with creative solutions, they are more likely to be plugged in to networks and resources you may not have access to yourself. Kim, for example, invited both a trusted colleague and her boss to join her team.

The trick is to listen to their critiques, and that's not always easy to do. Kim argued with her team so much that one member finally said, "Look, if you're going to ask for my advice and always disagree with it, it's not worth my making the effort to give it."

Of course, you can ask clarifying questions: "What do you mean by that?" or "What did you think when you saw me doing this?" But do not contradict them, even if you feel a team member has levied a terrible misjudgment. This is his "gift" to you. And if four out of five people are giving you the same gift, then chances are they're onto something.

Now, I bet you're thinking, Why would these folks do this? What do I have to offer that could possibly induce people, some of whom I barely know, to help me in this way?

In a word, you have your own generosity, and that is the fuel making this entire engine run. By reaching out to others with generosity, whether it's to recommend a new yoga class or to seek their counsel, you're laying the foundation for a long-term relationship. And I guarantee you'll be rewarded with a positive response.


Plan it!

My friend Dr. Dean Ornish tells me that, in his experience, most people who survive a heart attack will eventually backslide to the same bad habits that put them on the operating table in the first place. Even fear of death, he says, is not a strong enough motivation to change ingrained habits.

But once people realize that they can have a better sex life, will dance at their child's wedding and see their grandchildren grow up, they start to exercise and eat right. They "get" the connection between aspiring to succeed and positive goal-driven activities.

It's a well-known saying in business that "what gets measured gets managed." That's why Weight Watchers insists on a weekly weigh-in.

Choose one of your goals and ask yourself, What do I need to do in the next 60 days to feel that I am on my way to success? If you want to be spiritually grounded, set up a series of meetings with a clergyman to talk about a study program. If you want that promotion, talk to your boss about what it will take to get it.

Next, determine your milestones, and take the pulse of your progress at prescribed checkpoints. At the beginning, talk to your dream team weekly about your progress. As you gain more confidence, extend the time between checkups to 30 days, then 60, then 90.

Don't be surprised if your focus shifts over time. That's normal. Every three to six months, reassess your goals and rethink your plan. You may even need to reach out and include new people in your support community. With her boss's encouragement and support, Kim left her old firm and started her own Internet marketing business. She is building a portfolio of satisfied clients and says she's happier than she's ever been.

Remember Jennifer? She worked through her conflicting emotions about having a baby and decided that this was actually an opportunity to help other pregnant women. She started a website that has grown into a vibrant interactive online community, Suburban CEO.

My dad always used to say, "Don't ever look back and wonder 'what if.'" You've got a dream, right? And now you've got the plan, so what are you waiting for?

Are you standing in the way of your own success? Find out now!

Keith Ferrazzi is CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight and author of Never Eat Alone