Extra! Extra! Newspaper Routes Create Leaders

This week I taped some segments for my new talk show, “Talk About Choices.” Once again, I asked successful, entrepreneurial leaders, “What was your very first job?” And once again, I heard the response: “I had a paper route.”

One of my first guests, Bob Carey, chief market strategist for First Trust Portfolios, told me how having a paper route shaped his business acumen. Bob had a route that few kids in the neighborhood wanted–all his customers were in a retirement community. Previously there had been a lot of turnover because kids his age didn’t want to deal with older people. Bob took it on and built his route from 30 customers to 100. What were the secrets he learned as a paperboy?

“Provide great service,” he said. “Show up. Do what people want and good things happen.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in there for anyone running a business, leading a team and/or serving clients and customers. Let’s break it down:

  • Provide great service. This seems obvious, but anyone who is in business knows it’s easier said than done. How do you define great service? More importantly, how do your clients or customers define it? Do they expect you to return your calls within the hour? Within the day? 24 hours? When is the last time you asked them how they define great service? There’s sometimes a gap between what we think is great service and what the client thinks is great service. We need to be crystal clear about their expectations if we want to have any chance of meeting them.
  • Show up. There’s a saying attributed to Woody Allen (no longer my favorite director for reasons that should be obvious, but have to give credit where credit is due): “85% of life is just showing up.” Ain’t it the truth? Or, to quote the old tagline from the lottery, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” Showing up on time, showing up ready to do business, showing up all ears, committed to listening–those are variations on the theme. But first, you gotta show up.
  • Do what people want and good things happen. Let’s assume that what people want (the market) is what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about and what you are burning with desire to deliver (your service). And let’s assume it’s legal, moral and ethical. Do that–just that–and good things happen. Deliver the paper on time, every day, on the stoop where they like it, collect on time and have a smile on your face when that customer opens the door, and good things happen. For Bob, those good things include a role as chief market strategist for a highly respected investment management company, a role that allows him not only to make a difference in the world of finance but also subsidizes his penchant for fabulous guitars.

What was your first job? I’d love to hear about it. (Comment below, please.) Did you have a paper route? Did you babysit? That was my foray into entrepreneurship. I’ll save those stories for another blogpost. First, I want to hear yours.

P.S. Millennials, since paper routes for kids may have gone the way of the rotary phone, please tell us: what was your first job?

 

 

Network as if You’re a Talk Show Host

This past June I became the host of a new talk show, “Talk About Choices,” where I have the privilege of interviewing people who “love what they do and do what they love.” My purpose for the show is to provide powerful models for others to see, giving people permission to love their work.

What if we approached networking as if we were talk show hosts? Granted, networking is best when it’s give and take, a volleying back and forth between one person and another during a (live-and-hopefully-in-person) conversation. But when you’re out to build your network, your “Circles of Gold®,” the best way to build those relationships is to listen, really listen, to what someone else has to say. I recommend that you think of a networking meeting as if it’s a pie chart: 25% of the time is yours, the other 75% of the time is for your “guest.” That means that 75% of the time, you’re the host.

Here are some other things I’ve learned as a talk show host that might help you with your next “Circles of Gold” conversation:

  • Be prepared. Review the person’s biography and how you met them–was it a Chamber connection, an introduction via social media, an alumni buddy? If you have notes on them in your database, review those notes. You may see something that will not only add zing to your conversation but will let your “guest” know that you heard, and remembered, what they said. This can be both surprising and flattering to them, and it isn’t “cheating,” by the way–just good use of technology. Be sure to do a Google search and if they’ve written something, or they were profiled in a professional journal, have that reference available. Study their LinkedIn profile and scroll all the way to the bottom. That’s where people list their hobbies & volunteer activities, the groups or leaders they follow and the associations to which they may belong. This information is pure gold when building relationships, giving you insights into what’s important to them.
  • Have a great list of questions. Following the format of a podcast I love listening to, “The 10-Minute Writer’s Workshop,” I ask all my guests the same questions, including: “What was your first job? How did you get into the field you’re now in? What was a challenge or disappointment you overcame? What do you most love about your job?” These questions get wildly different responses because each person brings his or her unique history and experience to the interview. I’ve learned many things about my guests that I never would have learned had I not a) asked the question and b) kept my mouth shut long enough to hear the answer.
  • We can never be too appreciative. Whenever someone gives you the privilege of sharing with you in a conversation, whether they’re a guest on a talk show or sitting across from you at Starbuck’s, they are parting with something they will never get back: their precious time. I am humbled that the people I’ve invited to be on my show have agreed to take time out of their busy days to share about their career journeys with me and my viewers. I will never forget their kindness and consider that a debt of gratitude that will never be repaid.

Oprah would agree with me that the real job of a talk show host is not to talk, but rather to listen. While listening to my guests, each with fascinating stories about their own career trajectories, I am learning to discipline myself to calm that chatterbox inside my head, the one that wants interrupt and chime in, “Oh, yeah! I’ve had that experience too…”  Being a talk show host is teaching me a whole new level of connecting with others.

Next time you have the pleasure of meeting someone for coffee, lunch or a quick drink after work, put yourself into the role of a talk show host. Do your research. Write down a list of questions. Begin and end by expressing your appreciation for their time, that non-renewable resource, and see if you don’t come away with new perspectives on networking, your “guest” and yourself.

 

[“Talk About Choices” is produced by Wheaton Cable TV (WCTV) and can be viewed on the city’s website as well as via Vimeo. My guests so far have included Kerry O’Brien,  executive director of the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce, Bob Carey, chief market strategist for First Trust Portfolios, Jerry Evans, founder of Jerry Evans School of Music, and the Honorable Bonnie Wheaton, judge in the 18th Judicial Circuit Court of DuPage County. Upcoming shows will feature Betsy Adamowski, executive director of the Wheaton Public Library, Tammy Pressley, director of government and community affairs from Northwestern Medicine and Pam Sharar-Stoppel, president & CEO of Wheaton Bank & Trust. Many thanks to Arin Thrower, Wheaton’s new public information officer, Rich Sagen and the production team at the City of Wheaton, for their support and assistance.]

Photo by Jan Gonzo, courtesy of Unsplash