A colleague once advised me that: “As you build your career it is very important that you are the one who is fascinating and not the one who is fascinated”.
Over the years, these words have surfaced in my mind as I analyze the professional dynamics with those I encounter. At the crux of the analysis is the simple question – what makes one fascinating? However, underneath this query there is a more serious implication that one who is fascinated by others cannot themselves be fascinating? That is, are these two states of being mutually exclusive?
The result of the analysis of the fascination equation leads to a valuable discussion on how we develop our professional personas.
The perfect story
The most captivating people are ones that can tell a good story. A business story is quite simple to construct. The foundation is three-fold starting with the acknowledgement of where you’ve been – pedigree and experience; where you are now – accomplishments; and, most importantly, where you are going – vision and outlook. However, it is the delivery of this narrative, including the careful details embedded therein, that ultimately has the power to absorb the listener.
Seasoned professionals recognize who is across the boardroom table. Preparation and generous listening become critical to their story. They understand their audience so they can modify their script to make their presentation relevant and poignant. Elevator pitches and sound bites have their place in marketing but they rarely have the strength to connect. Similarly, professional scripts on autopilot can leave the listener detached and disconnected.
Those that captivate our attention tell their stories with powerful simplicity and personal conviction. A fascinating person is one that is continually fine-tuning, self-editing and rehearsing themselves...essentially optimizing their character. Their presentation instills a level of confidence with counterparties because it offers us the opportunity to connect with their focus, ambition and vision.
Attractive people, professionally speaking, communicate using a perfect balance of humility and pride. Accomplishments and milestones are noted but challenges and hardships are also conveyed. You can get a sense of the person’s character while being equally impressed with their business acumen. Personal likeability and professional respect both regularly factor into business decisions. Who we are getting into business with is as important as the business we are intending to do with them.
Charm is not a quality that should be overlooked in the professional realm. While not strictly a professional characteristic, we cannot deny that charming people have the ability to enchant us. The allure of charm is that it is imprecise or indefinable. It not necessarily the substantive aspects of the conversation that appeal to us but rather, a ‘style’ that resonates with us. Charm allows the professional interaction to feel special in some way and adds a level of intrigue because it is not a fully tangible trait.
The fascination equation is not a zero sum calculation. One can easily be fascinating to others and still have the ability to be fascinated by those they meet. In fact, one can argue that there is something rather unappealing about someone who doesn’t have the ability to recognize interesting people that they cross paths with. Notable people have unique outlooks, specific goals and strong networks that are informed by the admiration, respect and acknowledgement of other esteemed individuals and their stories.
If we look further into the fascination equation there is a more important message embedded in the advice – be fascinating because you have the ability to be. The original advice is predicated on a notion that we should not hold others above us on an unattainable professional pedestal. We all have all the necessary qualities to be fascinating if we put in the time to understand who we are speaking with, what we should be speaking about and why this conversation matters... that is, to form our perfect story.
What is so great about a good story? It has the power to influence whether it is by example or by inspiration. There is something so spellbinding about the message and/or the messenger that it enchants the listener and more importantly makes all else vanish in that moment of enchantment. In today’s highly stimulating professional world, this ability to gain one’s undivided attention should not be underestimated. Ultimately, if we have the skills to captivate then we will have the ability to compel someone to do business with us... the math on this can be very attractive indeed.