Ep. #71: The Golden Rule of Business

Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you earn more and weigh less. I’m Kelly Hollingsworth, and it’s the last week of April, so you know what that means. It is our last week discussing advocacy, and I told you that in the last week on advocacy we were going to discuss the golden rules.

In this series on advocacy, we started out discussing the made-up rules. These are rules that keep you from having the life you want, but that don’t really exist. You’ve conjured them up in your brain and they’re wreaking havoc on your life and your wealth-creation. And then we discussed the agreed-upon rules, the rules that govern your relationships with other people, and when you can break them through a concept called efficient breach, often to dramatically improve the lives and financial situations of everyone involved. Last week we discussed government rules and how to think about things when other people are breaking the rules, and how to advocate for yourself when that’s going on. And this week we’re going to discuss the golden rules.

A Golden Rule is a Principle of Success

So the first question is, what is a golden rule? A golden rule is a basic principle that should always be followed to ensure success. Today is our business episode, so I want to discuss what I consider the golden rule in business. In my mind and in my experience, if you follow this one rule that I’ll share with you today, you’ll never be sorry. Rather, your customers will be delighted and you will enjoy repeat business and referrals and you’ll never suffer for clients or revenues.

My Golden Rule for Business Success: Zealous Advocacy

So what is this golden rule of business success? We always hear that the golden rule is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is a good sentiment, but it’s not terribly effective in practice for a few reasons. One is, it’s vague. What exactly does this mean, do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Sometimes it’s hard to know in the application, because what we’d do for ourselves isn’t terribly clear, and this leads to a second problem with this rule. Often, we don’t treat ourselves well. So if we’re treating other people the way we treat ourselves, in many cases we’re going to run into trouble, because other people aren’t going to stand for the nonsense that we often put ourselves through.

So I have a different golden rule to use in commerce, and it is to be a zealous advocate for your client. This in my mind is the general business principle that will guarantee success.

An example of zealous advocacy

Zealous advocacy is a legal principle. It’s something they teach you in law school. Lawyers are required, under our adversary system, to zealously advocate for their client’s position. But I knew about zealous advocacy leading to success long before I knew the name of it. I remember when I was a waitress in undergrad. Patrons of the restaurant where I worked would point to something on the menu and ask, “Is this good?” And sometimes I would grimace and shake my head with a pained expression, and say, “Not tonight.” Or maybe even, “Not ever.” And then they would know not to order it and to get something else.

And this transparency shocked some of the diners. Often, when one person asked, “Is this good?,” others at the table would say, “She can’t tell you that.”

And when this happened, I would think to myself, that’s just silly. Of course I can tell you what’s good and what isn’t. Because you’re going to order something. If the veal isn’t good tonight, you will order something else. Either way you’re going to eat and you’re going to pay the bill and leave a tip. But if you enjoy your food, I’m not taking the price of certain meals off the bill, and maybe my tip is bigger, too, and you leave happy, most importantly.

Something to notice here that’s often not super obvious: zealous advocacy often has you going against ill-advised instructions, and generally leaving everyone involved in a better position. Even the restaurant, in my example about the veal. If the restaurant’s chef had been asking me to push the veal (this never happened in the restaurant where I worked, but I know there are some restaurants that try to get rid of stuff and they ask the staff to foist some inferior food product off onto the customers so they can make money instead of throw it away). In that instance, zealous advocacy would say, do the restaurant a solid and feel free to ignore the instruction to oversell a bad meal. The restaurant will be far better off if you don’t follow that instruction, and they throw away bad food instead of selling it, and the customers leave happy.

So I hope you can see from this example that zealous advocacy means doing the right things for the customer, in spite of everything else that’s going on and working against doing the right thing for the customer, and as a byproduct of doing that, you enjoy success. Now let’s talk about the definition.

Zealous Advocates Do Every Reasonable Thing to Facilitate Success

Zealous advocacy means doing every reasonable thing to help your client achieve his goals. What are the reasonable things? I can’t talk about every reasonable thing in the span of a 17-minute podcast episode, but I can talk about three reasonable things that you should do for your clients always to facilitate success, both theirs and yours.

Zealous Advocates are Competent because they Hone Their Skills and Perform at the Highest Level

The first thing a zealous advocate does is ensure that they are competent to perform the task for which they are hired, or if they’re selling a physical product, that it actually works.

The importance of competence often gets downplayed, but it’s a game-changer. Competence is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently, and you can’t be a zealous advocate for your client, you are definitely not doing every reasonable thing to facilitate their success, if you can’t perform successfully and efficiently.

And here I want to say something that I’ve never talked about on the podcast before. I don’t like to get mired down in gender distinctions, but if we were going to draw a line between the sexes and say that women do this and men do a different thing, I’d have to say that it’s the way they view their own competence. Women will come to me with PhD-level expertise in a certain area. They have distinct, demonstrated, and enviable expertise in their subject matter, and they’ll say, “I’m not ready. I don’t know enough yet.” That’s the underearning problem for women relative to men. They downplay, in their own minds, their own competence. Women question what’s not remotely questionable. They are experts and they just don’t see it.

This is not a male problem. Men who underearn often, not always, but often, have the flipside problem. They conjure up competence in their brains where none exists. Men routinely call me, having never placed a profitable trade for their own account or anyone else’s account, and ask about getting started as a hedge fund manager. This is not a phone call that a woman would make. At least, I’ve never seen it.

And I don’t think that what I’m seeing is just anecdotal. I recently heard about a statistic from Zip Recruiter, that the average man will apply for a position when he meets 60% of the requirements. The average woman won’t apply unless she meets 100% of the criteria for a job.

The point here isn’t to get mired down in gender distinctions. Rich & Thin™ is for everyone. But I do want to say that if you’re a woman and you’re not sure you’re ready, there are men out there who know half as much as you and are earning twice what you’re earning because they’re not worrying about readiness. They’re already in the game, and that’s where competence is honed and expertise is demonstrated.

So part of being a zealous advocate is not just being competent, but it’s also getting over yourself, recognizing your own competence, and getting on the field. You have to recognize your own competence. And you never develop true competence sitting on the sidelines studying the other players. You have to have some skin in the game, something on the line, to develop true competence. You also should continually invest in your own skills through continuing education and ongoing coaching.

Zealous Advocates are more zealous than their own clients

And another thing about zealous advocacy, competence is the first thing… the second thing is that you are more interested, when you’re a zealous advocate, in advancing your client’s position than they are. Here’s an example so you know what I’m talking about. Do you remember that movie Indecent Proposal? Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson play a young married couple. He’s an architect and she’s a real estate agent, and they have fallen on hard times, so they go to Las Vegas to make last-ditch effort to come up with the money they need to save not only the house they live in, but a piece of property on which they are building an architecturally-noteworthy spec home. And they run into Robert Redford’s character, he plays a billionaire named John Gage, and he offers the couple $1 million if he can spend one night with Diana. That’s Demi Moore’s character in the movie.

So the couple agrees to this deal, and then meet with their lawyer the next day to have a contract written up. And they explain the deal to the lawyer. They say, “We’re going to get $1 million and she’s going to spend one night with him.” And the lawyer looks stricken. He has an absolutely horrified look on his face. And they say, “We know, we know. It’s terrible, but we really need the money.” And the lawyer basically starts yelling at them. He says, “That’s not what’s terrible. The terrible thing here is that I could’ve gotten you $2 million for a woman like Diana. You never negotiate without your lawyer.”

To this, I would add that you never negotiate without a good coach. As a coach, I routinely help my clients clean up their thinking and clean up their message so that they leave a negotiation for a specific transaction getting double, triple, sometimes even six times what they were intending to get out of the arrangement, and the reason I am able to do this is because most people have a skewed sense of the rules that holds down their profitability, and this skewed sense diminishes, to a horrifyingly significant degree, what they get out of the transaction. They don’t advocate for themselves to the extend that I do because I have a clearer picture of the rules and what’s available to them. So what I do for my clients is I advocate for them harder in their transactions than they do for themselves in their transactions.

So the point here, in telling you this anecdote about the movie Indecent Proposal, is not to tell you that you should conduct illegal activity, or that you should have a lawyer who helps you write contracts for illegal activity. I’m not proposing that at all. The point is that often we don’t advocate for ourselves to the extent that we could or should, and it hurts us financially, and so we all need someone who is a stronger advocate for us than we are for ourselves. We all need to have someone who helps us exceed our own expectations.

So now let’s bring this back to you. A golden rule that will help you in business is to zealously advocate for your client or customer so they have a more amazing experience than they think they’re going to get when they come into a relationship with you. When you are a zealous advocate,  you are more interested in their own success than they are. You want to help them succeed and can envision a better experience than they’re envisioning for themselves. In law, the obvious goal is to achieve the legal outcome that the client wants. Maybe it’s winning the case, or getting out from under an indictment or structuring a business in a way that is most advantageous to the client and efficient for the client to operate.

But zealous advocacy applies in every kind of business. I go out to lunch at a sushi restaurant called Syringa here in my town Coeur d’Alene Idaho sometimes,  and they don’t have to do this, but before the meal they bring a hot towel for each patron to clean their hands. It’s a very civilized thing to do, common in Japanese restaurants, and I always wonder, what if the other restaurants did this? It can’t cost very much. What if the restaurant where I go have a burger and fries did this? That would be above and beyond. More than I would expect, and it would delight me.

Zealous advocacy in business leaves your clients delighted. More delighted than they think they have a right to be. And that is the second principle of zealous advocacy. You advocate harder for your client than they do for themselves.

Zealous Advocates Focus on a Single Purpose: The Customer’s Happiness and Success

The third thing I want to tell you about zealous advocacy today is that zealous advocate have a single goal. It is all about the customer.

This is something they teach you in law school. You cannot be a zealous advocate if your interests are divided. This is why a lawyer shouldn’t represent both a husband and a wife in a divorce proceeding. If you have two clients with adverse interests, if they both want the house, for example, how can you possibly be a good advocate for both of them? You can’t.

Many of my clients who under earn have similarly divided interests, and the divided interest usually comes in some form of other relationship that they want to preserve, outside of the relationship that they have with their customer, and that other relationship is at the expense of their client relationship and at the expense of their client’s success.

I see this all the time. I see it once in a while with hedge fund managers who trade too frequently, more frequently than is necessary, because a broker wants more trades that will generate more commissions. The hedge fund manager’s job is not to generate commissions for the broker. It is to generate profits for the investors in the fund. But because of some thoughts that the hedge fund manager has about the broker, a divided allegiance about maintaining the relationship without broker, the hedge fund manager get stuck in a pattern of over-trading, to the detriment of the investors in the fund and their profitability.

I see this outside of financial services all the time, too. Maybe you’re a consultant who was brought in to work on a project by a friend. And you can see that the friend isn’t doing terrific work for the consulting client, and the client can see it too, and you don’t say anything or do anything, or do anything, and you don’t even serve the client to the best of your ability, because you don’t want to make your friend look bad or upset the apple cart with your friend or risk the relationship.

I see this kind of divided loyalty in the mentor/guru relationship. I am in several coaching forums, and they are always run by a successful coach, and the people who are in these forums are in there because they want to learn from that successful coach. And often I will see posts in these groups where someone is asking the coach, “My client whom you don’t even know really wants and needs to do this thing and I know you advise against doing this thing, what should I do?” And this kind of questions sounds innocuous but when you see the examples of this kind of thing, you’ll see that they get kind of crazy. I recently saw a post in one of these forums, a weight-loss coaching forum, along the lines of, “My client really wants to eat this certain thing. Is this allowed?”

As if the coach/guru running that forum could possibly know what is good for a person she has never even spoken to and doesn’t even know. In cases like these, the business person who is seeking the advice from the guru is so enamored or the guru, or coach or mentor or whatever you want to call it, that they can’t zealously advocate for their own client. They’re worried in their own mind about breaking an imaginary rule or offending some other person who won’t even know about the situation and who isn’t even a party to the transaction.

If you’re checking your own brain at the door and substituting the brain of a third party who’s not in the transaction, that’s a sign that you’re in a danger zone. You might be getting great advice, but you might also have just checked your zealous advocacy at the door and you didn’t bring it to the relationship with your own customer.

If you are under earning, you are not zealously advocating

So those are three features of zealous advocacy, and I want you to look for them in your business life. Are they present? Because if they’re not, that’s a sign you’re underearning.

Let’s go over them quickly just to recap.

  1. Develop (and Accurately Assess) Your Own Competence

You must be competent. You must have the ability to do the thing you’re hired to do successfully and efficiently. And you have to have an accurate view of your own competence.  If you’re a woman, I hate to get mired in ender distinctions, but I’m going to say it again. If you’re a woman, there’s a very good chance that your own view of your own competence is skewed. It’s like driving a car that pulls to the right. You’re going to have to get your tires aligned so that your car starts tracking straight down the center of the road, and a good coach can help you with that.

  1. Advocate for Your Client’s Success Harder than your Client Does

The second thing you do, as a zealous advocate, is you must want it more than your client does. If you are their guide, if you have been hired to take them somewhere, you must want it more than they do because they can’t see the destination as well as you can. They’ve never been there before. You must be more confident than they are.

  1. Zealous Advocacy Looks at One Goal: YOUR CLIENT’S GOAL

You can’t let other people and their thoughts get in the way. You can’t let your relationship with them get in the way. You have to be able to look at the situation with your client or customer and figure out what is needed in that situation, and do it. You can’t let divided allegiances interfere with that.

These are scary things to do for many of us, particularly the last one. This past week I was working with a client who had a divided allegiance, and he was very concerned about preserving the relationship with the other person who wasn’t his client. He was waiting around for a third party to get on board with something, when that third party’s involvement was completely unnecessary and the third party was dragging his feet and that was unnecessarily interfering with my client serving his own customer. But my client was unwilling to move forward because he wanted to preserve the relationship with the third party. Through coaching, I was able to help my client see that he could zealously advocate for his own customer. He could stop waiting and start taking action, and at the same time preserve or even enhance the relationship with the third party who he was worried about offending. And the result is going to be that they are all going to be better off. My client’s customer, my client, and the third party that my client was worried about.

I can’t share all the facts of that situation because it’s confidential, but the point is that these kinds of situations come up all the time, and if you are under-earning, I can assure you that it’s because you’re not zealously advocating for your customer, and often you’re doing this out of a sense that you’re doing the right thing. But our brains get wacky in certain situations and we think we’re doing the right thing, when in fact we are under-serving, and the result of that is always under-earning. When you’re a zealous advocate, you serve at the highest level and that’s when you earn at the highest level.

If you have anything like this going on in your own life and business, let me know if I can help. kelly@richandthin.com. And please join me for our body episode later this week where we will talk about zealously advocating for your own body and your own health. Thanks. I look forward to talking with you next time.

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