How To Lead a Value Added Life
How to Stand Out in the Marketplace and Increase Your Personal Happiness
We read a lot these days about adding value: to our products, our companies, and our personal brands. If we want to find true satisfaction, however, in our jobs and in our personal lives, we should stop focusing on ourselves and, instead, seek to add value to the people around us – those who ultimately contribute to (or even determine) our success at work and the happiness and fulfillment we find in our personal lives.
I often have no clear explanation for the things that have happened in my life. What was it about me – my character, personality, culture, or physical attributes – that enabled me to become the person I am now? Trying to understand the tangle of circumstances, personal attributes, decision-making, and fortuitous accidents that contributed to my success can be a confounding exercise. What did I do to encourage them? I wish I knew, so I could generate more of them, and share my secrets with others.
One situation that I was able to unravel, after much reflection, occurred early in my career with my current employer, Yoi Corporation. When I first started working with them, the current CEO, Keith Ferrazzi, asked me to join him in California at a day’s notice. When he put me on a flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, he didn’t know much about who I was or what I was good at. I assume he was under the impression that I could add value and be of service to his mission, which at that point was building the Yoi team, and strengthening its product.
During the three weeks I spent in LA, which was before my involvement with Yoi became official, I worked harder than I had ever worked before. I went above and beyond what I had been brought there to do in order to provide additional value; not just in my field of expertise, but across all disciplines that related, in any way, to the task at hand. Because I knew that the goal for Keith was to push the product forward in every way – price, performance, ease-of-use, marketing, branding, etc. – I knew that this was not a one-dimensional endeavor, and that I would have to apply all my energies into diverse efforts. What I learned is that by adding a disproportionate amount of value in every way I could, I earned the right to stay with the company.
But let’s backtrack for a second and consider how this whole “added value” construct works. Through working with Keith I learned to appreciate the importance of always being generous and of service, but, to me, it was much more important to actually bring something to the table that tangibly improves the other person’s situation.
The Millennial Shift
People’s most common understanding of adding value is related to their job description, and the hard skills they can develop, hone, showcase, and later be held accountable for. Most people feel satisfied if they’ve checked that box, and can go home happy at the end of the day.
This has started to change with millennials, who are comfortable taking a different job every 12 months. They get bored. They need to contribute beyond their job description. They need to grow. They’re smart, and understand that adding value is not only about you – it’s about how you can be flexible and adapt to the needs of your employer, your friends, your family, or anyone else that needs more of you, beyond what they’ve initially asked you for.
In order to truly add value to the people around you, you have to use that same flexible approach, and be willing to change how you serve other people, constantly adapting to their needs.
If the person is a stranger, ask questions and try to get to know them. Learn a little about their business and their personal life. Find something they truly, deeply care about, and then respect their interest in it, even if it’s not your own. Affirming and reflecting their passion is the best way to make them an ally. Stay focused and be willing to listen to their detailed explanations.
Once you know the person, you can determine their needs and tailor your approach. When it comes to suggesting ways to help them, think outside the box. Be bold. They will at least appreciate your interest, even if they don’t jump on your suggestion. If they enjoy fishing, for example, and you’re an avid hiker, you can compliment their appreciation for the outdoors, and suggest a beautiful fishing area you’ve passed through. If they work for an automotive manufacturer, and you’re in marketing, you can compliment a particularly effective ad campaign you’ve seen for their favourite car, and maybe suggest another.
This approach can be counter-intuitive to some people. We are so focused on ourselves that we sometimes aren’t willing to think about adding value to those around us. It can seem like a waste of time, knowledge, and energy. We’d rather be talking about ourselves. But you’ll find that by asking questions, conveying interest, and being generous to the people around you, you will strengthen your relationships, and ultimately benefit myriad aspects of your life – and the people around you. The best part of adding value to those around you? The more value you deliver, the more you eventually get back.
Become a Trusted Advisor
One of the most beneficial outcomes of adding value to those around you on a consistent basis is that you build a network of relationships and become a trusted advisor to many people. When you’re someone’s confidante, they will come to you for advice, introduce others to you, and help you when you need it. Keep in mind that trust isn’t built overnight. You have to demonstrate your reliability over time by taking ever opportunity to help others.
Sometimes, when your goals aren’t met, you may get angry, frustrated, and even paranoid, suspecting that you’re not receiving the same amount of help that you’re giving. Ultimately, this line of thought will make you less willing to continue adding value to those around you, but that would be a mistake.
When this happens, take a step back and take a deep breath. Understand that helping others benefits you even if you don’t realize immediate tangible returns on your “investment.” Researchers in the growing field of “happiness studies” have demonstrated that helping others provides significant physical and psychological benefits. And while you may not see short-term gains, these investments almost certainly benefit you in the long run, as the goodwill and value you have provided ripples out through the world, and eventually echoes back to you even stronger, multiplying your investment.
Instead of dwelling on the goals you haven’t met, focus on continuing to strengthen your relationships and adding value to those around you. In time it will come back several times over.
Use Your Perspective
When I first came to this country, I didn’t have as much experience or expertise in my chosen field, enterprise software. So I was sometimes at a loss for how to best provide value to others. Eventually, I discovered that I could use other characteristics to add value, including my unique cultural insights, my interpersonal skills, and my willingness to offer advice on related issues. My value didn’t come from years of experience in the field; it came from my having a distinctly different perspective than those around me.
When you think about a company you want to work for, consider areas where their workers are allowed to do more than what they’ve been specifically hired to do. Some companies, like Google, have already started doing this, allowing 20% of their employees’ time to be invested in projects of their choosing, which can lie outside their particular job descriptions. Take advantage of these extra-curricular opportunities to demonstrate your value to those around you.
If you’re a manager, encourage these kinds of open opportunities so your direct reports can use their initiative to generate value for themselves and your company. What makes you think that one of your software developers doesn’t have great finance insights? If they’re put in a box where they can’t think about anything besides writing code, their full value will not be realized, and opportunities will be missed to move the company forward. What if your accountant is a very creative person, but the only thing they’re allowed to do is manage spreadsheets? Their creative ideas will never emerge, and will never contribute to new streams of thought in the company.
Going back to the issue of millennials, by 2018 more than 50% of the US workforce will belong to this generational cohort. Every company in American would do well to understand the unique ways they approach their relationship with their jobs. They are demonstrating that they want more than the mechanical tasks they’ve been trained for. They want meaning, they want growth, they want opportunities to step away from frameworks and blueprints, and they want the freedom to explore ideas off the beaten path. They want to contribute beyond their preset niche, because contribution to them means growth. And growth, therefore, is directly correlated to the amount of value they’ll be adding to your company. The more autonomy they’re given to create value, they more value companies will realise from them.
Conclusion: John Lennon Was Right
When you create value for others, you become more valuable to them, and the more value they give back to you. Think about this in relation to all aspects of your life. Every person who is important to you is adding value to your life on some level. The more value you give them, the stronger your relationships become, and the greater their contribution to your own happiness and success.
Personal relationships are prioritized according to their emotional value. In some important ways, having a person in your life is adding value to you, because they make you feel better about yourself. In business relationships, the value is generally measured by its effect on your bottom line, or on your ability to succeed. But the dynamic is the same: adding value to them adds value to you.
When we focus on creating more value for other people, it shifts our perspective. We naturally start to move away from self-serving motives as we increasingly consider the welfare of others. This causes our own happiness and success to become a by-product of our efforts to contribute to the happiness and success of others. It is truly a win-win for everyone. The more you focus on contributing in worthwhile ways to other people’s lives, the more your own happiness becomes bound up with theirs, and the harder they work to positively impact to your life.
This change of perspective results in a shift in consciousness – one that elevates our existence to a higher level. When we focus on adding value to the lives of others, it expands our world. When our focus is based on selfishness, our world gets smaller. As our world expands, we become exposed to even greater opportunities. Acting on those opportunities increases value in our lives and contributes to our success.
Just like financial investments, if you make the right kind, you can eventually live on the interest. When you invest value in others, you benefit in similar ways, but so does everyone around you.
To paraphrase the musician John Lennon: the value you make is equal to the value you take.