Six Powerful Words and Three Personal Development Opportunities

By Andrew Sobel

Six Powerful Words

The first word is Why.

Every day of the next year will be gift for each of us. That’s why my first word for 2014 is “Why?” When used in the right way and at the right time, “Why?” is one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. This word keeps us focused on what’s most important. And when we only have this day, it helps us prioritize and spend our efforts in the right places.

If you want to understand the real problem behind the problem a client has presented to you, ask “Why?”: “Why is that happening?” “Why have you decided to act on this now?” “Why do you think this is the right issue?” And so on.

If you want to understand someone’s real motivations, ask “Why?” Be gentle and diplomatic, but ask it. “Why do you want to change jobs?” “Tell me about that idea—why do you feel it’s your best option?”

If a prospect tells you his people aren’t doing what they need to in order to get the required results, ask the simple but revealing question, “Why aren’t they doing what you want them to?” Is it fear? Lack of skill? Lack of engagement? Not having the right person to work with? And so on.

In 2014, cultivate the “doubting mind” by asking why at key moments.

The second word is Agenda

Jerry Panas and I have written a new book that comes out in January. It’s called Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships. Law Five is This: Know the other person’s agenda and help them accomplish it.

In a professional setting, knowing the other person’s agenda is the starting point for building a great relationship. Yes, building rapport and mutual trust is essential. But remember, the first level of trust with the client is based on their perception of your competence to help them solve a problem or tackle a difficult issue. And you can’t do that—at least not fully—if you don’t know their agenda of three to five priorities, needs, or goals.

We tend to go through life focused on what WE want. On our needs and goals.  This year, stretch yourself to understand the agenda—both business and personal—of everyone with whom you’re trying to build and deepen a relationship with. It starts with asking the other person what they are most focused on accomplishing in the next six to twelve months. If you don’t know this for every single one of your clients, you’ve got some work to do.

You can practice this at your next social event, regardless of whether you’re talking to a friend or colleague from work. Ask the other person, “What are you going to be doing in the New Year that you’re most excited about?” or “What are the big things on your agenda this winter?” It’ll be more interesting than talking about the most recent political crisis or the latest celebrity revelations.

The third word is Crossroads.

In ancient times, a crossroads was a place where information and news was exchanged. People coming from different directions would stop, talk, and share what they had seen and heard in other towns.

Metaphorically, you need to work at being at the crossroads of what’s important to your clients. This means getting out and talking to people in your market or industry. Having conversations with thought leaders. Staying current with news about people, companies, markets, and best practices.

I have a client who calls someone in his network every day to chat with them and find out what they are up to. Over the next five months he’ll talk to at least 100 executives in his market. Believe me, he learns a LOT in these calls. It’s a routine for him—he doesn’t view it as taking away from the time he has for his real job. It IS his job. Calling one person a day in your own particular market niche may not may sense, but you get the idea…

The more people you talk to, the more you’re at the crossroads. And the more interesting you’ll be to the next prospect or client you talk to.

If you’re perceived as being at the crossroads, clients will always make room in their calendars for you. To get to the crossroads, start talking to more people in your market. Ask lots of good questions about their work, the trends they see, and new developments they are involved with.
The fourth word is Enthusiasm

My fourth word for this New Year is Enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm comes from a Greek word meaning “Having a God Within”. This word root conveys the sense of energy and power that emanates from someone with enthusiasm.

Do you know someone who is always excited and enthusiastic about their life and their work? Who is upbeat about every task they have in front of them? It’s like a breath of fresh air.

Let me cut to the chase. Is your own enthusiasm about your work lifting up those around you? Are your clients and colleagues more excited, motivated, and animated about the task at hand after spending time with you? Or, are they brought down by your complaining, your cynicism, and your negativity?

You can choose. Choose enthusiasm. To quote my 96 year old father, who says, when I ask him how he’s doing, “Compared to the alternative, very well indeed.”

The fifth word is Brand

I went to visit my publisher at John Wiley recently. I asked him how many copies the average business book sells. “I read once it was 4,000 copies,” I told him. He laughed, and told me, “It’s more like 2,000 now. There are so many more titles published now, it’s getting harder and harder to get noticed and sell more than a handful of copies.” The authors who sell, he added, have a following and they promote their books actively. Usually, their books are alsogood.

This is a good analogy for succeeding in today’s super-competitive marketplace. You need to build your brand. Even if you work for a company that has a terrific, well-known brand, you still need to cultivate your personal brand. Your company’s brand gets you in the door for the first meeting, and it often gives you access to RFPs.

When your brand is strong, you get more leads. People ask colleagues and friends for a resource, and they recommend you. Prospects search the internet, and your name comes up at the top of the list. They see who has published books and articles in your area of specialty, and there you are at the top of the heap. A strong brand gives you respect and trust before you even meet a potential client.

Do you want to have a stronger brand? Well, are you willing to put in the hard work necessary to build one? That hard work entails publishing and speaking. It means codifying your intellectual capital in different media and on different platforms. It means assiduously building your network within your chosen market.

Remember: If you don’t actively build your brand next year, it will actually shrink relative to your competitors. Your competitors are effectively diminishing your brand every day you don’t work to strengthen it!

The sixth and last word for the new year is Generosity.

The root of this word comes from generōsus, which means “noble birth” in Latin. Apparently, it conveyed the sense of noble obligation to give freely and help those less fortunate.

Generosity can be expressed in many ways, starting with financial generosity. In 2012, it’s estimated that Americans gave an extraordinary $316 billion to nonprofits and houses of worship. And, studies show that people who give are happier and healthier than those who don’t give. Is that causation or correlation? I have no idea. But it’s a fascinating fact.

Generosity comes in other forms as well. You can be generous in your relationships, for example, and give of your time, wisdom, connections, and so on.

With clients, you can err on the side of giving a little bit more when they really need your help. Will they take advantage of you? A few might. But most won’t. And your reputation will grow.

Here’s the main point: Generosity doesn’t just help others—it strengthens your relationships. It creates a ripple effect. It makes it easier for others to trust you.

There’s always something you can do to help those around you. Don’t be generous, on any level, only because you think it will give you a good return on investment–that is, make you happier or create more vibrant relationships—but in truth it will pay you handsome dividends.

Let’s go back to the root of the word generous, which has to do with “noble birth” and the obligation to help others.  Several thousand years ago it was said, “From those to whom much is given, much will be expected.” Who needs your help right now? Where and how can you demonstrate your generosity?


Wrap up:


  1. Why?
  2. Agenda
  3. Crossroads
  4. Enthusiasm
  5. Brand
  6. Generosity

What words are your signposts for 2014? 

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