Like many of you, I learn best from experience – both my own and that of others. That’s one of the reasons I love being part of a business community as well as the national and international coaching community. We share our insights, we share what we learn. There is a wealth of information – friends and colleagues willing and wanting to share their experiences and their wisdom. One of my dearest friends is another executive coach. Though we approach coaching fundamentally different ways we share experiences. In this way, we help each other become the most effective we can be, resulting in mutual success.
Perhaps it’s because of my belief that sharing is the high road to success that I found a recent interview with Amy Shulman, executive vice president and general counsel at Pfizer, to be so compelling. She had many awesome insights and I positively loved the way she expressed herself. Here’s one of my favorite quotes of hers:
One thing that happens at work is that [we] tend to hoard favors as if they were airline miles — you know, the hundreds of thousands of airplane miles that we’re saving for when we really need them. But ‘when we really need them’ may never come. …
There’s a parallel at work. You need to spend political capital … if you’re waiting for the perfect moment to spend that capital, you’re going to be sidelined your whole career waiting to just kind of enter the ring. [We] can and should do a better job of helping one another to be in that transactional forum, and to get over the anxiety that we’re going to be found wanting on the wrong side of that equation. We’re undervaluing the role that we can play in the success of other people and the organization. So don’t be afraid to spend some of that political capital. You have to be well prepared, you have to be smart, you have to be on time, you have to be responsive, you have to be respectful, you have to have principles. But once you have all those things and you’ve built a track record, don’t wait for the perfect day.
I had to think hard about what Shulman meant about hoarding political capital and what that had to do with how we can help others succeed. What is political capital? Political capital is power, pure and simple. It’s what you get when you are in a position of power and there are people out there who owe you favors. When we talk about hoarding political power, we usually mean saving those favors for later. But, hoarding political power can also mean saving up your knowledge and wisdom, not sharing it, wielding your power over others rather than bringing them into the conversation. Instead of being hoarders, let’s be the ones who share by initiating conversations and helping one another. Because by sharing our wisdom, we really are helping ourselves and building more political capital.
Sharing knowledge, on its face, seems to be about helping others. But, when you parse through what it means to share knowledge, you quickly see that the one who shares benefits just as much as the recipient. Suppose you have an idea germinating. In my experience, that idea is as likely to grow as to stagnate if not stimulated in some way. Ultimately, if you share that idea with others and get their insights, you have a base on which that idea can build into something bigger and better. They can challenge you, reframe your thoughts, give you new direction and stimulate your thought process. The sharing has come right back to benefit you. It enriched your idea.
Another way that knowledge sharing helps is by providing a means to connecting to another person and to collaborate. If you help someone with a business contact, that same person is more likely to come back to you with an idea to stimulate your own business. In many ways, as social beings, humans are built for this type of interaction. Most of us work best collaboratively. This is also known as “paying it forward”.
Now I’m all too aware of the rubric that “Knowledge is Power.” But, I don’t buy that. Hoarding knowledge really doesn’t help. Using it for mutual benefit strengthens us. Think of social networking. Obviously, people are looking for connections. Using your business acumen to help someone else is a great way to make a connection.
Let me give you an example from my own life. Three of my business associates and I have formed a loose collective for sharing business ideas. Our businesses are wildly different (one internet based, a doctor, a software designer and me), yet we share problems that many small business owners suffer. Expand our challenge is to help one another over the humps and learn from each other so that another of us doesn’t encounter the same problem again in the future.
Sharing is more than networking. It’s about not being afraid to help, to give of yourself, to let someone else know that you are there and will support them. It’s all about the wisdom that comes from success and the success that comes from wisdom!