On the surface it may sound like an oxymoron, but these two behaviours walk hand-in-hand along every successful journey.
I frequently speak and write about the critical nature of engagement. Of our associates as well as our prospects and customers. Of cognitive and emotional engagement and the lessons we can take into our businesses from the field of Applied Behavioral Economics to accelerate our success. Nothing is perhaps more important, yet to be truly successful (on your own terms) one must also practice detachment.
I learned the first part of this lesson during the early years of my career. My formative, professional years coincided with the formative years of the biotechnology industry. My territory was Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I split my days calling on the laboratories at Harvard, M.I.T., and the tiny startup biotech companies that these two institutions began spinning off. I quickly realised that behaving like a typical salesman would quickly pave a roadway to failure.
You simply don’t play manipulative sales games with Nobel laureates. Instead, I decided to become a differentiated resource. Working for a small distributor, we often brought new research technologies to market first. The big distributors, who still actually placed stocking orders with manufacturers back in those days, would wait to see what products gained traction through small independents before picking up a line.
In order to engage these brilliant scientists, I dedicated myself to being of service. First, I took the time to learn their language. I bought and studied introductory textbooks from the M.I.T. bookstore on everything from molecular biology to immunology. I wasn’t looking for answers in these books, but learning how to ask intelligent questions about their research.
In doing so, I unwittingly engaged my prospects on both a cognitive (which was my intent) and emotional level (which some 25 years later would be proven as a critical driver for success through the research of people like Dr. Dan Ariely, now teaching and conducting research at Duke).
These researchers were passionate about their endeavours; seeking a cure for cancer, trying to unravel the mystery of HIV and AIDS, or attempting to decode the sequence of DNA. By taking the time to ask an intelligent question, they would light up and walk me about their lab, discussing their recent discoveries and challenges. With these insights in hand, I could then bring the rapidly emerging, innovative research tools to their attention, doing my small part in contributing to their success. I didn’t attempt to be a peer, but I had succeeded in becoming a resource.
The lesson of detachment was also shown to me at the time, but I couldn’t see it. Like every sales representative, I was too focused on hitting my numbers. What was so fascinating in those early days of research on the molecular level was many new research tools were used in ways the manufacturers never could have contemplated or forecasted.
These researchers were innovators and tinkerers, there simply wasn’t any dogma to cling to yet, so they tried everything. Products targeted for one use would find traction in an entirely different application. Back then, there was no way to anticipate the outcomes because almost every new technology was a disruptive technology.
Now I have a much better understanding of how these two concepts, applied through out behaviours, go hand-in-hand. In order to engage others, you must first engage with your authentic self. I did so by diving into the research driven by my own curiosity and a sense of purposefulness. In my own, tiny way, I was contributing to the good fight of discovering cures for horrible diseases that plagued our society.
The researchers sensed my dedication to their endeavours and, unlike many of my competitors at the time, I never walked into their laboratory with commission breath*. Authentic engagement keeps us present, in the moment, focused on active listening, enabling us to respond appropriately in the only time we can…now. We cannot change what we did yesterday, and we cannot do anything about tomorrow until it arrives.
That’s the lesson. Stay engaged in the moment, with your prospects and customers while detaching yourself from the eventual outcomes. If we focus too much on fixed expectations we’re bound to miss even greater opportunities that will unfold before us. The author Don Miguel Ruiz points to this in his book, “The Four Agreements” when he suggests we shouldn’t take anything personally.
When people reject you (I’m assuming you’re acting ethically and honestly) it isn’t necessarily about you. It is about them…their projections, perceptions, social conditioning, and individual mindset is always at play, often unconsciously. Don’t take it personally because there’s nothing we can do about it and we cannot fix anyone other than ourselves.
Today, I am authentically engaged with my message and my mission of helping my clients succeed in the ever changing business climate of the 21st century. At the same time, I recognise that my message will not resonate with everybody. I must practice detachment and trust that, through my daily practice of authentic engagement, my value proposition will gain traction with prospects capable of embracing what we offer in the marketplace.
This isn’t to say we don’t conduct strategic planning, targeting, and such; we do. It sets us upon our trajectory, focuses our resources, and accelerates our mission. But it isn’t carved in stone, either.
We’re open to adjust, calibrate, and respond to new opportunities along our journey. By having structure, we enable flexibility. We know where we are at any given moment and have a clear orientation and understanding of the direction in which we are moving. Without this foundation, flexibility becomes floundering.
Try this out for yourself on a small initiative and see where it takes you. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!