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by John Ingrisano

The Freestyle Entrepreneur

The greatest ability in business is to get along with others and to influence their actions.” – John Hancock


Genius is no guarantor of success.  Neither is hard work by itself.  I teach a one-day seminar for Fred Pryor/CareerTrack called “Dealing with Difficult People.”  One of the things I stress is that the genius, the brainiac-Mensa candidate, the man or woman with more sheer intelligence than the rest of the team combined … this person almost always ends up working for the one with superior people skills.  (I know one member of the Mensa genius club who once owned a successful manufacturing business … but who is now in doing time in a federal prison because of his arrogance and misguided belief that he was above the law.)

It’s true.  More often than not, the company president – the innovator, the truly successful individual — is the person who may have graduated from college with the middle-of-the-road C average, but who was born with – or, more likely, cultivated – a gift for relationship skills.

Abrasive people?  They end up stuck in the back room in a dead-end job.  I knew another fellow years ago who was one of the best industrial video producers and editors in the city in which I lived.  He was brilliant.  He could create video magic.  However, he had the charm of a toad.

He was brusque to the point of being downright rude.  Once, while working on a project together, I asked if he could be a little less obnoxious.  His furious reply:  “You hire me because I’m good, not because I’m a charm school graduate.  Now, why don’t you shut up so we can get this project wrapped up!”

By the way, did I mention that I was the client?  Six months later, worn out by his annoying personality, I found someone who was almost as good, but twice as pleasant.  I made the switch and never looked back.  I also heard a year later that the toad’s business had gone under.  A shame, because he certainly was good at what he did.

This fellow is not alone.  I know yet another fellow, a young, talented, hardworking manager.  He puts in long hours, but he lacks social skills and is indifferent to others. He answers the phone with a grunt; never bothers to get up when someone enters his office; would never think of giving an associate a compliment or asking, “How’s the family?”

As a result, he has been passed over time and time again at the company for which he works.  Again and again, he has fumed while less qualified men and women were promoted over him.  The sad part is that he doesn’t get it.  His response when “cheated” out of his promotion?  He has become more surly, ruder and less friendly every year.  Again, a shame, because he is one talented guy.

By the way, I speak from experience.  By nature, I have a prickly personality.  I can be impatient and intolerant (which is perhaps why I was asked to teach the “Difficult People” seminar).  It hurt me dearly as a young man trying to build a career.  Fortunately, when I finally decided to find out why my toast always seemed to land jelly-side down, I began to study successful people.

I discovered that almost all winners have several core traits in common.  These include…

  1. Industriousness. Logging four lackluster hours a day of make-believe toil time will not cut it; that would be a hobby, not a career.
  2. Education.  Study; take courses that enhance your knowledge;  Read; always have at least one inspiring and/or educational book or magazine on hand … and dedicate 30 minutes to reading it each day.  Never stop learning.  Never!
  3. Practice.  If you want to master a skill – whether marketing, developing people skills, sales skills, you name it – work on it.  Apply what you have learned over and over again until you “own” it.  Just as important, go ahead and fail at it over and over again.  Eventually, you will succeed.  Practice.
  4. Relationship skills.  No, this is not necessarily personality or charm.  Successful people are not delightful, smiling idiots.  However, they do know – and care about — people.  This is key.

How do you build those relationship skills?  It involves cultivating patience, empathy, and the ability to communicate clearly.  The goal:  As a friend once said about another friend, one with a true gift for people:  “Johnny could tell you to go to hell in a hand basket.  You’d be halfway there and thoroughly enjoying the trip before you realized that you’d been insulted.”

The key to people skills:  Learn how to read people and how to respond to their needs.  Put the focus on them, not on yourself.  If you can teach yourself to put yourself in another person’s shoes, to see him or her as having needs, goals, fears and concerns that are as real as yours, and then to focus on those needs, goals, fears and concerns, you will be a success.  That’s a promise.

It is no big secret.  Whether in sales or management, people like to work with people with whom they have a positive relationship.  People will cooperate with you not because you know a lot, but because they like you, respect you and trust you … and because you know a lot, too.  As Teddy Roosevelt said, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

The bottom line:  Success results from relationshipsSo, work hard, make money, have fun … and learn how to work with people.  — JRI

John R. Ingrisano

The Freestyle Entrepreneur

The Freestyle Entrepreneur – winner of the 2010 Top 35 Entrepreneur Blog awards from OnLine MBA.

John Ingrisano

The Freestyle Entrepreneur    

209  Church Street

Algoma, WI 54201

(920) 559-3722


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