In a major study I conducted of nearly 3000 professionals, 91% said that trusted professional relationships were extremely important to their success. Guess how many were “very satisfied” with those relationships? Only 30%. So, what’s going on, ...

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You May Be Developing Too Many Relationships​

By Andrew Sobel

In a major study I conducted of nearly 3000 professionals, 91% said that trusted professional relationships were extremely important to their success. Guess how many were “very satisfied” with those relationships? Only 30%.

So, what’s going on, and how do we bridge this “relationship gap”? Read on.

Welcome to Part I of my four-part series on building the relationships that truly matter for your career success. I’m sharing this to inaugurate the release of my new eLearning program, called Building Relationships That MatterI spent a year developing this state-of-the-art multimedia course, which is a masterclass on how to build the trusted relationships—with different key stakeholders—that you need to thrive. I’m offering my newsletter subscribers a one-time, huge discount on the program cost (see below).

When Fewer Is Better than More

In our culture, having a large number of relationship connections is a badge of honor. The media breathlessly reports on the millions of Instagram followers of this or that celebrity. Among professionals, there is also now a lot of bragging about the number of LinkedIn followers/connections that they have accumulated.

In interviewing thousands of successful professionals, I’ve learned that there are actually about 15-25 key individuals—not hundreds of superficial contacts—who will make a disproportionately large contribution to your success. This is a small group of people who trust you, believe in you, are committed to you, will vouch for you, and will help you when you are in need. These are the individuals who can make a big impact on your career and life.

Now, don’t get me wrong: there can be great value in having a large and extended network of both personal contacts and online social media connections. However, for overall job and career success, these will not cut it for you.

Here’s a striking but actually common example of this: an old client of mine, based in London, was a top rainmaker in his field. He once told me that nearly 20% of his lifetime revenue as a banker had come through one lawyer in New York City—and vice-versa—the lawyer had also received many of her client opportunities through this executive. That was a transformative relationship for both of them. In our terms, this lawyer was a catalyst relationship for my client.

Do you know who your “critical few” are? You should focus most—perhaps 65-85%—of your effort deepening these key relationships. These are those 15-25 individuals who will constitute your success network. They may include your managers/bosses, selected colleagues, mentors, thought leaders in your field, clients and customers, and executive influencers in your organization.

The Fuel for Your Relationships: Generosity

To build the relationships that matter, you need to master two attitudes and seven skills. The wheel, below, outlines these.

I’ll conclude by highlighting the very first one: Generosity.

If trust is the universal lubricant for relationships, generosity is the fuel that gets them started and keeps them growing.

We admire people who are generous with their time and resources, and in our hearts I think we wish we could be more like them—but…the truth is, many of us find it difficult to go beyond what we could call a limited or superficial generosity.

Consequently, we are stunned at acts of deep generosity, such as when 86-year old Oseola McCarty–who washed clothes for a living and lived in a tiny house–decided to give away her life savings of $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi to fund scholarships for low-income students.

For our purposes, I define generosity as the willingness to give freely of your time, expertise, experience, and social capital in your relationships with others. When you are generous, it sends a clear message about your character and values. Generous acts attract others into a relationship with you, and help build long-term trust.

Generosity is powerful, but I don’t think most of us are as generous in practice as we’d like to be. Here are three barriers that can get in the way:

  • A “me” focus
  • A lack of role models
  • The fear of being taken advantage of

There are many ways that you can express generosity. Help others out at work. Give freely of your time, wisdom, resources, and social capital. Give just to give (which is authentic generosity), not to get something in return. Cultivate your own gratitude—it will make it easier to be generous to others. Also, be generous in acknowledging others’ successes and accomplishments.

In part II of this series, in two weeks, I’ll share another relationship-building skill that will help you build “the relationships that matter” and accelerate your career.

*****

Just released: my new Building Relationships That Matter digital learning program.

I’m now releasing my new eLearning program, Building Relationships That MatterIt is a unique resource that will accelerate your career success, increase your influence, and amplify your leadership. (My clients have told me there’s nothing like this on the market, anywhere. I’m confident that’s true.)

In this course you’ll identify your own success network of the “critical few,” and learn to build trusted relationships with those important individuals by mastering nine essential attitudes and skills. You’ll learn how to use a powerful and replicable relationship-building process, rapidly build rapport with others, empathize profoundly, formulate powerful questions, influence your colleagues and managers, heal relationship conflicts, and much more.

And…best of all, you will enjoy going through these highly engaging, multimedia lessons—I guarantee it.

Visit the course site, here, and see for yourself—if you scroll down, you can watch a free animation I created on Power Questions.

The discounted launch price of this course on my learning academy is $597 (versus the standard price of $797). Seriously, I’m so excited about this program, and the impact it can have, that I’m temporarily offering just my newsletter subscribers like you another $250 off—bringing the price down to $347. I want to get a group of you to try the course and share your feedback with me. I am holding this discount open only for the life of this four-part series. Just type the word relationship in the coupon code box, when you check out, and you’ll get $250 off the already-discounted price.

If you enjoy video, you can also watch this short overview of the course that I produced, here.Building Relationships that Matter

I really encourage you to check this program out.

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Ten Questions to Ask Your Clients Each Year

By Andrew Sobel

Clients generally don’t voice their concerns with you. Instead, they tend to vote with their feet, gradually and often invisibly shifting their business to a competitor. So you need to seek feedback on a regular basis.

Some questions are not very fruitful. For example, asking if your client is “satisfied” with your work seems to me a very low bar to aspire to. If they say “yes” does it really mean anything? Asking “How can we add more value in the relationship” is also usually a dead-end question. Clients can rarely tell you how to add more value—you have to figure that out based on a deeper understanding of their priorities and needs.

These 10 questions will help you understand the state of your relationship and give you clues for how to improve it:

  1. Could you share with me your overall assessment of our relationship?
  2. If you could change or improve one thing about our relationship, what would it be?
  3. Are there any individuals in your organization with whom we should invest more time and build a better relationship with?
  4. Can you give me any suggestions for improving the amount, timing, or format of our communications to you and your organization?
  5. What issues are coming up that we ought to be aware of or thinking about for you?
  6. What are your plans for…? How are planning to deal with…? (tailor these to your client’s business and markets)
  7. What are your most important goals over the next six to 12 months?
  8. Is there anything we could improve upon or change that would make doing business with us easier?
  9. Could you give me your assessment of our team? (What have they done particularly well? What could they do better? Are there any new skills or capabilities you wish we would add to the team serving you?)
  10. Would you be willing to provide us with a referral? (and/or with a testimonial about our work for you?)

Some of my clients use the Net Promoter Score (NPS) system for gaining client and customer feedback. NPS mandates just one question (actually, three, but the first one is the main one): “On a scale of 1 to 10, how enthusiastically would you recommend us to a friend or colleague?” Under NPS, only 9s and 10s are considered true promoters.

For your major clients, however, you should take the time to seek the more detailed feedback that my 10 questions require.

Lastly—Check this out: I recently read Kevin Kruse’s excellent new book, Great Leaders Have No Rules: Contrarian Leadership Principles to Transform Your Team and Business. I interviewed Kevin and asked him to elaborate on some of his more contrarian ideas about leadership. You can read it in my blog, here.  

*******

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah

Me and my giant snowball…

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Fresh, Thought-Provoking Insights on How to Lead from Kevin Kruse

By Andrew Sobel

I recently read Kevin Kruse’s excellent new book, Great Leaders Have No Rules: Contrarian Leadership Principles to Transform Your Team and Business.

In my interview with Kevin, I ask him about some of his most interesting—and perhaps controversial—leadership principles. Why is an open-door policy actually a bad idea? Do I really want to lead with “love” and “vulnerability”? Should everyone know each other’s salaries? Kevin’s insights are illuminating.

  1. Q: You advocate “closing your open door policy” in favor of more regulated access by employees. What’s your logic for this, and, are there any times when an open door policy could make sense, albeit temporarily?

A: The ubiquitous “open door policy” is intended to facilitate communication and cut through red tape, which is admirable. However, in practice, an always open door policy can lead—in addition to constant interruptions—to dependency among your team members. Some research indicates about half of team members basically “reverse delegate” decisions and problem solving back on their managers, while the other half never uses the open door at all. Instead of putting the impetus of open communication on team members, it’s better to have a consistent cadence of one-on-ones and team huddles, and then scheduled office hours for limited pop-in meetings.

  1. Q: In the title of your book is the phrase “No Rules”—“Great Leaders Have No Rules.” Say more about that. What about some rules that are important personal boundaries, e.g., “I don’t work on the Sabbath”?

A: Every time I bump into a rule, it takes away the opportunity for me to make a choice. And when you do that, it becomes your company, not my company. I become a little less engaged—I feel less ownership. Better than rules, are standards which are co-created by the team. Even a rule like “don’t lie”, or “don’t steal the office supplies”, will be far more effective and engaging if there is a conversation around values like integrity and honesty. Do we think those are values worth having? Why? What does living out those values in this organization look like?

I think personal “rules” can be powerful and beneficial, but instead of thinking of them as a rule they may be more powerful as a thoughtful choice. If I consider not working on the Sabbath a “rule”—perhaps told to me by my parents or Rabbi—I may have mixed feelings about it, or I may have never truly paused to consider it. But if you have a conversation (even with yourself) about values like honoring God, rest and recovery, investing time into a strong family, then you may be far more likely to want to observe the Sabbath.

  1. Q: You say a leader should be likable, but not liked. What’s the risk in being liked?

A: The problem isn’t actually being liked, it’s more about the need to be liked by everyone. When I was young I wanted to be a democratic boss, just another team member, and everyone’s friend. The reality is that I was being a people-pleaser. I had an external need to be liked, which ended up slowing down my decision making. I’m not suggesting you wall off your heart or act like a jerk. The idea is to be likable, but be unattached to whether your team actually likes you or not.

  1. Q: You talk about leading with love, and other authors have also focused on the power of love. But it sounds scary to me—is this feasible for people who are more reserved about their emotions?

A: As a very stoic task-focused “driver”, leading with love sounds scary to me too! But it’s really more about leadership coming from a place of caring about your people, not just quarterly profits. It’s about a love of humankind. Ultimately, I don’t think anybody wants to be eulogized with, “Well, he never made a difference in anyone’s life, but at least he never missed in earnings estimate!” You can demonstrate your love in the little things. Do you actually say good morning to people each day? Do you look people in the eye and smile as you pass them in the hallway? Are you compassionate and understanding during people’s tough family times? If you have to let someone go, do you help them to find their next job?

  1. Q: I like your concept of “Revealing Everything.” Are there any limits to this type of radical transparency? Could it incite conflict to reveal peoples’ salaries?

A: The benefits of radical transparency far outweigh the risks, and if salary could disclosure could incite conflict in your organization, it says more about your compensation methodology than transparency. There is already salary transparency among millions of public servants who work in government or the military or public education systems. Everybody knows exactly what everyone else makes in those organizations. And the reality is that today, anybody can Google their job title, city, and “average pay” and come up with numerous websites that give accurate data. And, even if you have a policy against talking about compensation, younger generations talk about it all the time. They rightly view it as a fairness issue. So I think the bigger issue is, even if you don’t want to proactively publish individual salaries, would you be comfortable if the data got out. If not, why not?

  1. Q: You recommend showing weakness. It’s known that vulnerability builds trust (and likability!). I’ve coached many senior women executives, and I’ve had pushback on this advice from some of them because in our culture, they tell me, a woman—compared to a man—can in fact be penalized or downgraded for showing vulnerability. Any advice here?

A: Yes, women and men today are unfortunately judged by different standards. I don’t have a good answer on this although I remember advice Brené Brown has given on occasion which is that we can share our vulnerability with those who have earned it. We might not be very vulnerable with the new colleague who started this week, but be very vulnerable with the partner in our firm who we’ve worked with for years.

  1. Q: Many younger professionals (e.g., Millennials) tell me that they wish they had more influence in their organizations. They feel that older Baby Boomers (like me!) are slow to recognize their ideas and contributions. How can they achieve more influence as leaders?

A: I think this issue is highly contextual. I’d bet that most organizations have tenured middle managers who are out of touch, risk adverse, and poor communicators, and the “OK, Boomer” refrain is well deserved. And I know there are many organizations, and many teams, where the younger generations are truly impatient and don’t know what they don’t know. My best advice is to make sure there are specific growth practices in place. Are weekly one-on-ones held so that people’s ideas and concerns are heard? Are there growth opportunities like mentorships, shadowing, and special assignments? Are managers and team members having “stay interviews” every six months to review career expectations? Having frequent candid career conversations can be very helpful when managing multiple generations.

  1. Q: The eternal struggle for any leader is balancing the short-term demands of their work—the need to get immediate results for their organization—with the long-term investments they need to make to build the future. How do the best leaders do this?

A: Indeed, I think this is the ultimate struggle of leadership today. I think the best leaders find ways to integrate their effective people-leadership practices into the normal flow of work. Great leaders will start each team meeting by thanking someone who deserves it, because they know recognition drives engagement. Great leaders will give effective feedback—positive and constructive—immediately when they see something, knowing that team members value coaching and want to grow. Great leaders share their authentic best selves, and take an interest in team members as individuals, knowing that authenticity and caring are major drivers of trust. Ultimately, great leadership can indeed be practiced in the minutes and moments throughout the day.

Great Leaders Have No Rules: Contrarian Leadership Principles to Transform Your Team and Business by Kevin Kruse (Rodale Books, April 2, 2019)

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Pithy Wisdom from Two World War II Veterans on Veterans Day

By Andrew Sobel

Today is Veterans Day, which honors military veterans who have served in the US armed forces. I want to especially honor the many members of my family who have served, notably: My father (see below), my mother, who was a nurse and Lieutenant in the US Army during WWII, our son (see below), and my father-in-law Alden Eaton, who served in the Philippines as an officer and artillery spotter.

Our son Chris recently became a veteran after serving for nearly 14 years on active duty in Air Force Special Operations as a Pararescueman (combat search and rescue). He went on multiple combat deployments. Thank you Chris for your service!

My father, Dr. Raymond Sobel, was a Major in the US Army and apparently spent more days in combat than any Army physician in the European theatre. The rest of this newsletter is drawn from one I published in 2009, after visiting him and discussing his wartime experiences. He had pulled out an envelope he had prepared and asked me to give it to our son Chris, who had recently returned from a combat deployment abroad. It contained letters he had sent home during the war and several photographs of him during the bloody Italian campaign of 1943-1945, during which there were 320,000 allied casualties including 50,000 dead. It was the most lethal campaign in the World War II European theater.

My father considers himself extraordinary lucky: He survived several years of ferocious combat as a front-line medical doctor in Italy with the US Army’s 34th infantry division. While many others died, he survived. He survived landing at the beach in Salerno, Italy, while under fire; the second wave at Anzio, north of Rome, under worse fire; Monte Casino, where, he will tell you grimly, his battalion started with 30 officers and was left with only five standing at the end; and finally being stuck on the Gothic Line near Bologna, during the horrifically cold winter of 1944 when the Germans pinned the allies—and his division—down for months in the snow. He eventually ending up walking (yes, on foot) from Rome to Turin with his unit while supervising a team of medics, getting awarded the Bronze Star for saving a man’s life during an artillery bombardment, and being promoted to the rank of Major. He is self-deprecating about his Bronze Star (“I don’t quite know why I did it—it was really stupid—running out of that church into the square where a soldier lay wounded, with artillery shells falling left and right, and dragging him inside…”); nearly incredulous that he lived while so many of his fellow soldiers died (“I’m a very lucky man to be alive today”); and proud of his service as a medical officer (“I took the Hippocratic Oath,” he told me once, “and so I never carried a sidearm even though I was required to”). While on the front lines in Italy, he noticed how the constant exposure to combat wore men down, and he wrote and published the seminal article on what is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which he entitled, “Old Sergeant’s Syndrome.” 77 years later it is still quoted in psychiatric and sociology textbooks. The article earned my father promotion to the post of“Division Psychiatrist,” the first such appointment in history in the US Army.

He (and my mother) came back safely, as did–thank God– my own son. But many made the ultimate sacrifice and did not return to their loved ones.

A sampling of assorted wisdom I collected from my dad over the years. He was tough on me, to be honest, but he did have some really pithy sayings:

  • On preparation: “There is no substitute for genuine lack of preparation.” (This was printed in a book on aphorisms and witty sayings).
  • On being careful about whom you mouth off to: “Never talk back to a General. I did, and I lost a cushy job riding a medical supply train in Northern Africa and was sent to live in a foxhole on the Italian front as a Battalion Surgeon” (true story).
  • On getting along in a foreign country: “You only need to know a few well-chosen words in a foreign language to get along. The first word I learned in Italian was ‘cipolla’ which means ‘onion.’ As we marched through the Italian countryside we would yell out to the farmers, ‘cipolla?’ and they would give us some onions that we would then chop up and put in our c-rations, which were so bland.”
  • On your convictions: “Sometimes you have to act on your convictions. I had tuberculosis in medical school, and so I was classified 4-F by the Army. 4-F is medically unfit for service. I read widely at the time, however, and I understood how evil the Nazis were. I was Jewish, too, which gave me even more reason to serve. So with help from my father, I made contact with the selective service board, and they arranged for me to sign a waiver in order to enlist.”
  • On giving people bad news: “If you know you’re going to have to deliver some bad news, tell people as far in advance as possible—this enables them to process it before the actual event. If you’re going to miss a day of work in a month, tell your boss immediately. He may be upset when you tell him, but by the time the day finally rolls around he will have already processed his anger and he’ll be just fine with your day off.”
  • On being careful about taking on others head-on: “Never get into a pissing contest with a skunk.”
  • On setting aside your worries: “At the battle of Monte Cassino, we were under constant artillery bombardment, and we slept in deep foxholes surrounded by sandbags. If your foxhole took a direct hit during the night, and many did, you would not wake up in the morning. So before going to sleep I would do everything I could to ensure I was as safe as possible: I would rearrange the sandbags, dig a bit deeper into the foxhole, organize my personal belongings, and so on. Then I would stop worrying and go to sleep.”

My mom also served right at the front lines in a mobile surgical unit (as in MASH, the TV series), and she had a similar philosophy about worry. Whenever I was sick with anxiety over something at work, she would say, “You know Andrew, in ten years you aren’t even going to remember what you were in a state about today. It will be forgotten. But what will still matter are the really important things, like your your family and your friends.” Having grown up quite poor, living in a cold water flat in Manhattan in the 1920s, my mom also knew something about inequality–she always told me, “Just remember: The rich get richer, and poor get poorer.” She didn’t need modern economists to tell her about the real and growing barriers to economic mobility today!

Below: My mother, Alma Sobel, in her Army nurses uniform. Her mobile surgical unit followed the D-Day invasion troops from England all the way to the heart of Germany.

And below her, my father receiving the Bronze Star from his commanding general in early 1944 (the incident was in December 1943).


 

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C-Suite Strategies Part IV: Become an Irresistible Person of Interest

By Andrew Sobel

By Andrew Sobel

Welcome to Part IV of my four-part series on building relationships in the C-suite. In this article, I’m going to talk about how you can become a “person of interest” to senior executives, drawing them towards you based on what you know, who you know, and who you are.

I’m sharing this series to inaugurate the release of my popular eLearning program, Building Your Clients for Life, to individual users (see more below).

A single, trusted relationship with an ambitious top executive can supercharge your business growth. However, these are hard connections to build. C-suite leaders are besieged daily by people who want to sell them something, influence them, or obtain a favor.

What if, however, the situation were reversed, and senior executives were drawn to you? What if, instead of you waiting in the long line outside their office, they were waiting in a line to meet you? Sound crazy? OK, maybe a little. But, some of my high-performing clients are in that fortunate situation. And, I’ve been able to attract many, many C-suite leaders to engage with my firm. It can be done. Plus, this is all relative: These strategies will help move you from wherever you are today to being just a bit closer to the C-suite.

PS If you missed either Part I, II, or III of the series, I’ve provided the links to them at the end.

What you know

The first factor that attracts top executives is what you know. They look for individuals who are credentialed—who have a reputation. But, they also want something broader than just subject matter expertise, especially for a long-term relationship rather than simply a one-off transaction. We can call this elusive but powerful quality “business acumen.”

Business acumen integrates five important characteristics:

Who you know

Senior executives are often eclectic individuals who like to cultivate relationships with other interesting people. They have very varied networks. You become more interesting to them if you also are seen as also having relationships with diverse and noteworthy individuals. I personally enjoy and benefit from knowing a wide variety of people, both within and outside of my profession. Often, I will introduce a client to a relevant contact who can help them with an issue or be a useful connection for them. I call this adding “network value.”

Who you are

I have consistently found that senior executives care about the kind of person you are. Your character really matters to them. By who you are I mean the ensemble of your behaviors, values, and beliefs—and even your general outlook on life.

The first step is to exemplify C-suite behaviors. These include confidence, a willingness to challenge, and an action orientation. The latter means focusing on what will actually work versus a clever theory. You must have a peer attitude when you enter the room. Independence is also essential. Can you set aside your own financial or emotional interests and always do what you believe is best for the client—including walking away if warranted?

Second, clients need to respect and feel comfortable with your values and beliefs. This doesn’t mean you have to share the exact same ones, however.

There’s no fixed prescription for what these are—it varies by individual. Some of the following might get included on any executive’s list:

  • Authenticity
  • Ambition
  • Caring
  • Positive outlook
  • Risk awareness
  • Action bias
  • Relationship orientation
  • Commitment to a cause or a transcendent purpose
  • Loyalty

Strategies to become a person of interest

You can develop what you knowwho you know, and who you are through six strategies.

  • Sharpen your expertise while expanding your knowledge breadth. A “deep generalist” has a core expertise that is complemented by a broad understanding of the business environment (or government or nonprofit world) that clients live in. And don’t forget to employ “deliberate practice” techniques to sharpen your skill and technique: Isolation, Repetition, and Objective Feedback.
  • Develop your thought leadership—your points of view, insights, and ideas. If a top executive is going to choose an expert, they want a professional who has a strong reputation in their field.
  • Be seen as someone who is at the crossroads of the marketplace. You achieve this by getting out and talking to lots of people in your field and reading widely around your specialty. If clients see you as being in the flow of their market, they will always make time to see you.
  • Become a person with interests. Most C-suite executives are passionate about every aspect of their lives—both at work and at home. Over dinner with a senior client, you’re more likely to spend time talking about life outside the office than life in it.
  • Build an eclectic network. The diversity and strength of your personal network helps shape the impression you give your clients. Do you know people your C-suite clients would also appreciate knowing?
  • Develop, manifest, and communicate your core beliefs and values. Have you ever sat down and tried to define what’s really important to you? Both in your professional life and personal life? The first step is to articulate these values to yourself. Then, you can exemplify them in your day-to-day client work. If you don’t know what you stand for, then clients won’t either.

*****

Just released for the individual user: my Building Your Clients for Life digital learning program.

I’m finally releasing my acclaimed eLearning program, Building Your Clients for Life, to individual users. Until now, only my major corporate clients, which include many top professional service firms and financial institutions, had access to this program. They have found it so useful they’ve put thousands of their professionals through it.

If you’ve already taken the course, please feel free to share this with a colleague or friend who could benefit from sharpening their client development skills.

To inaugurate the launch, for a short period I’m giving my subscribers like you a very special discount—1/3 off the normal price of the course. Just use the discount code subscriber when you check out, instead of the code mentioned on the site.

Building Your Clients for Life covers 26 essential client development topics, including 82 individual audio lessons, 27 HD videos, a 166-page workbook, and more. It’s a masterclass in how to build your clients for life, with 15 hours of rich content that you can consume 24/7, from any device. You can go directly to the course site to have look, here.

The feedback about the course from everyone in our group has been exceptionally positive. I personally thought it was brilliant, and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the individual sessions. I’ve gotten lots of practical ideas out of it.

James, course participant

I’ve also produced a short video, here, that gives you an overview of the program.

I encourage you to check out this unique program and take advantage of the one-third off deal—remember to use the code subscriber at checkout. BTW: as a special bonus, in addition to the course itself you’ll get to participate in two live Q&A calls with me. Review the program here. I hope to see you there!

Here’s to your success with clients

Andrew Sobel

Founder and CEO, Andrew Sobel Advisors

PS: Here are the links to the previous two articles in this C-suite strategies series:

Part I: Elevating Your Mindset and Gaining Access

Part II: Using Power Questions

Part III: Adding Value for Time

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