The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business?” is written by Wade Burgess, vice president of talent solutions at LinkedIn.
My siblings and I have always been entrepreneurial. I don’t remember an age when we didn’t have some kind of small business. Growing up on a ranch in Midwestern America, we were taught that what you individually put in—day in and day out—was what you would reap.
I remember the day, even the moment, when I realized that individual effort isn't enough for success. This ended up being the best career advice I’ve ever received. I was 19 years old, in the summer before my second year at the University of Nebraska, and embarking on the business venture that would build the base of my professional journey.
I’d started a direct sales business as an independent distributor and was frustrated with a lack of financial success early on. I thought working harder was the answer. Yet the more effort I put in, the more obvious it became that I couldn’t go it alone.
I networked my way to connect with one of the top people in the direct sales industry. I was forthcoming and transparent about what I was doing, and most importantly, where I wanted to go. The advice he gave almost seemed too simple and clichéd to ever work. Quoting famed motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, he told me, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
I learned in athletics to listen to winning coaches, so I decided to humble myself and follow this advice. I began to look at customers and distributors through a different lens, and thought of ways to serve them without wondering how it would benefit me.
Applying this approach changed my frame of mind in three profound ways. First, I found ways to build symbiotic relationships by helping others through common difficulties. This led to lasting friendships that endure to this day.
Second, I embraced the opportunity to zoom out and take a longer-term approach to business, helping others clarify their own goals and needs. This significantly improved my effectiveness in recruiting, retention, and sales.
Third, I learned to ask different questions, seeking first to really understand people before being understood. I had to truly care about the person sitting across from me in order to gain their trust.
In my current role at LinkedIn, I try to grasp others' aspirations, regardless of whether that person is a client, partner, or peer. I love telling employees “yes” to their requests. But if I can’t, “maybe” is the worst answer; it wastes time, energy, and mental exertion. You won’t always be able to help an employee achieve a goal they’ve set. In these situations, it’s best to quickly give them a “no.” You need to be prepared to have these uncomfortable conversations, because honesty is key.
The importance of helping others applies as much for me today as much as it did when I was starting out at 19. As workforces, teams, and customers become larger and more global, strong professional relationships are incredibly important. If you help enough people to achieve their dreams, you'll find that in the process you've achieved your own.