Ben's Advice: Everyone in Your Network is Important

“I hardly ever work with her; it won’t matter if I’m a little late sending her those documents she asked for.”

“Why should I thank him for that? It’s his job!”

“She’s just a temp. What does it matter if I gave her the brush-off?”

Have you ever said (or thought) any of these phrases, or something similar? If so, you may be doing more damage to your career than you realize. In order to attain and maintain a position of leadership, it is important to understand that all employees are valuable to the company and your career.

Many people believe that if their boss is happy with them everything will be perfect. The reality is, your boss’s perception of you is largely going to be a reflection of how everybody else in the organization feels about you. If many, or even just a few, people in the company feel negatively toward you, then your prospects for advancement diminish.

You need to make it clear to each of your coworkers that you are a reasonable person who respects them and the job they do. This attitude should extend from the security guards right up to the CEO. You should care about each of these people — even if only for the selfish reason that they could be important to your career. This dynamic is crucially important, and it trips up junior and senior employees as often as any other issue.

My Friend Kelly
I saw an example of this form of leadership in action early in my career at Bankers Trust from a junior trader, Kelly Doherty. Kelly was my classmate and good friend at Hotchkiss. He had joined the Foreign Exchange group a year before I arrived on the trading floor. It was obvious Kelly had gotten off to a fast start, and he was a highly regarded trader. One evening, as people were starting to leave the floor to go home, I stopped by Kelly’s desk to see if he wanted to go out for a beer.

Before we left, Kelly went around the department and shook hands, or gave a pat on the back, or a goodbye wave with a quick word of appreciation to each of the 10 or so employees remaining at their desks. Most of these employees were clerical staff. This was not the beginning of a two-week vacation for Kelly, nor was it some special day for the department. This was simply Kelly, on his own initiative, thanking his coworkers for their help that day. This was an aha moment for me.

The quiet leadership Kelly displayed, even before he became a manager, impressed me immensely. I was not surprised when, at the tender age of 32, Kelly became the youngest member of the Management Committee, nor when, at the age of 37, he became the youngest board member and a vice chairman of Bankers Trust. Compared to Kelly, I was a slow learner, so my personal example of quiet leadership came 23 years later as I was stepping down from 20 years of active duty at Greenwich Capital.

The Power of “Thank You”
As I was preparing to step down as co-CEO of Greenwich Capital at the end of 2006, I decided it would be appropriate to write a few letters to the individuals who had been so instrumental to my fantastic experience there. The initial list was short — maybe 10 names or so.

After I finished those letters, I realized there were at least 20 more I wanted to write. When I was done with those, the light bulb switched on: Why not write to every person whom I had any significant and positive exposure to during my career at Greenwich Capital? I traded in my pen for a recording machine, and I started remembering and talking. Three weeks later, I had composed more than 200 letters.

I loved sitting down and thinking about each person and the memories I shared with them. More rewarding, however, are the many times since then when one of those 200 friends has told me how grateful he was to have gotten the letter — how he had shown it to his spouse and still had it tucked away somewhere.

I always enjoyed the expression “No good deed goes unpunished” because it is often a setup for a funny story. In the real world, however, good deeds are always rewarded by making you feel good. Sometimes, they are also rewarded with tangible benefits. In this case, my only motivation to write these thank-you letters was just that: to say thanks and have fun retelling old stories. However, three years later when I got back in the game, the time it took to write those letters paid huge dividends when I was recruiting many of my old colleagues from Greenwich Capital to come join me at CRT.

The same principle will hold true for you, too. When you spread goodwill among the people you work with — whether it’s in the form of a letter, a kind word, or considerate everyday actions — you’ll find that your career is positively impacted, often in ways you could never have foreseen.