Winter 2006

Volume XII Number  4


The Three Core Competencies


As I contemplate my eleventh holiday season message, I have reviewed my own experiences over the past year to come up with something new to say. This year has been a confusing year for our country, with the stock market at all-time highs, unemployment at new lows, but the President’s approval ratings also hitting new lows---and almost three thousand Americans lost to a war that continues to go poorly.


When I work with career clients, we struggle to determine their “three core competencies”--- what would make an employer want to hire them. They must, of course, be backed up by examples demonstrating these characteristics. This is an exercise that seems to objectify behavior and is probably a good way to approach the New Year.


When I identify three things that positively impact most people’s job search as well as life,
I would say optimism, tenacity, and caring.


With regard to optimism, I have commented before on Seligman’s work Learned Optimism. Similarly, the story of The Little Engine That Could (“I think I can, I think I can...”) exemplifies this critical element of success. The individual who doesn’t believe will not take the risks necessary to win. 


This is not to say that we can’t encourage a more optimistic situation. The need to lend a hand to build optimism came to my mind this weekend. An ex-Five O’Clock Clubber who has become a private client was concerned because his son did not want to go out for freshman basketball. Tim tried all the rational arguments until Chris said, “Dad, I was afraid I’d cry at tryouts.” Tim, not always the most sensitive guy, rose to the occasion. Having met and liked the coach, he suggested Chris arrange to show the coach his skills privately. The coach agreed and discovered that Chris was intimidated by the skills of the upper classmen. But, he also saw that, next to other freshmen, Chris was at least better than average. He is now on the freshman team and has made two good friends from the team. 


In this example, Tim showed his son that there were different ways to deal with obstacles, and Tim’s belief in Chris---his optimism---was translated to his son…a great gift.


Turning to tenacity, I think of Jerry, a client who found me on the web. He is a 22 year old who dropped out of college to do on-line sales of lighting equipment and fixtures, products for which his dad owned a retail outlet. Jerry didn’t like retail, but saw the net as the way to go. In less than three years, he has built a $2 million business and is an E-bay Top 50 seller.


Jerry uses me as a sounding board. We have worked on business plans and processes. He recently called to postpone one of our meetings because he had to go abroad. A Chinese company had offered to sell him for 25 cents an item that previously cost him 85 cents. He flew to Shanghai, bought 250,000 units, and quickly sold half the shipment for 50 cents.


Yet, when he arrived for our next meeting, I noticed that he got out of the passenger side of his BMW. His driver’s license has been sus-pended, so two high school buddies now drive for him. “I have a lead foot,” he said brightly.


Jerry is tenacious. He does not give up, but he accepts blame when it is appropriate. When I asked him how he learned to do the deals, Jerry said, “I just listen, and I always follow up.”


Finally, this year, Kate Wendelton and I have made many on-site visits to human resource professionals---some who are outplacement corporate clients and others who have attended the Five O’Clock Club breakfast briefings. In general, I have been impressed by the level of real caring that these people show.


Patricia, when she called to refer her EVP of Sales, said, “I’d walk through hot coals for Joe” which I thought was a little hyperbolic. But when I started working with Joe, I could see how he could engender such caring, and later, when Kate and I met with Patricia, we could absolutely feel her caring. It was a case of two caring people encouraging each other.


As we approach a new year, in which we will face new challenges, let us be clear about our own three core competencies, and how we can effectively build on them. I wish you good reflections on this year, and better ones in 2007. Best in Season!




Books I’d Recommend


Setting the Table, The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, by Danny Meyer, New York, HarperCollins, 2006, $25.95.


I’ve been eating in Danny Meyer’s restaurants for longer than the twelve years my office has been on 16th Street near the Union Square Care. While the food and ambience vary greatly, the service is always warm and caring. I have seen Meyer personally intervene with customers to protect his employees, whom he regards as the cornerstone of his success. 


“People duck as a natural reflex when something is hurled at them. Similarly, the excellence reflex is a natural reaction to fix something that isn’t right, or to improve something that could be better. The excellence reflex is rooted in instinct and upbringing, and then constantly honed through awareness, caring, and practice. The overarching concern to do the right thing well is something we can’t train for. Either it’s there or it isn’t. So we need to train how to hire for it.”


Unlike some “as told to” or “with” books, the voice throughout this book is Danny Meyer’s. He reveals a good bit about his family, growing up in St. Louis, and a touch of how the personal experiences affect the business persona. He admits to using “every form of therapy available” after the death of twin babies born prematurely, but shifts immediately back to “fighting mood” following initial bad reviews of his second restaurant, Gramercy Tavern.


Meyer doesn’t believe in 110% employees: “We are hoping for 100%, divided 51–49 between emotional hospitality and technical excellence. …To me, a 51 percenter has five core emotional skills…we need employees with these skills if we’re to be champions at the team sport of hospitality. They are:


1. Optimistic warmth (genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is always at least half full)


2. Intelligence (not just “smarts” but rather an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning)


3. Work ethic (a natural tendency to do something as well as it can possibly be done)


4. Empathy (an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel)


5. Self-awareness and integrity (an understanding of what makes you tick and a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgment)


This book offers many insightful comments on doing business in New York in a service industry, with a unique style and continuous improvement. It is a good read of one man’s struggle to enjoy and contribute in his work---something I would wish for everyone.