Equal footing

Equal footing

I am indebted to Lawrence Pang for suggesting the theme and title of this Daily Paradox

It’s not an unusual request though it is often expressed in other ways. As authority has shed some of its pomp and command the relationships between bosses and subordinates, between suppliers and customers, between rich and poor have changed to allow more familiarity and greater equality. It is a rough diamond, still uncut and not yet polished. The demonstrations after George Floyd’s death will have spurred the cause. Every salesman is struggling to get it right to fill the order book.

“How can I raise myself to get on an Equal Footing with my clients, bosses, superiors, wealthier friends?” At TMI we express it differently. We call it ‘stature’ and regard it as a key part of leadership and management in the VUCA and Post-Covid world. For it is only with confident stature that you can comfortably approach Bill Gates, Ivan Heng, Alisson, Kishore Mahbubani, Ursula von der Leyen, or any of the other well known and powerful people who might be usefully interacting with you. Often the aspiration is less lofty than these sorts of people. It may even be confined to those you would like to become your clients in the near future.

Does such apparent familiarity work? While increasingly we make better objective judgments with our greater analytical data, the world’s population is still expanding. It has doubled in the last fifty years. Conquering disease and advanced medical developments will only contribute to that. Greater numbers can mean greater potential isolation for the individual. We have to compensate for that by having better contact lists. Who you know and how well is still very important. It’s not that you will necessarily drop names, although there is a time and place to do that. Other people knowing who you know can be a key to getting things done.

What gives rise to being on an equal footing? In many countries birth counts, less and less today I think but still significantly in some places. Education is also a key to good connections. Classmates from Harvard or Trinity are great sources of knowing who is who. Social background, in other words, still counts in spite of declarations to the contrary – mostly from people who want to keep things the way they are rather than change them. Treasure your connections from as early as you can write. Keep tabs on them, stay in contact even if only an annual catch-up. One of the few things I regret is that I never made a ‘connections book’. Of course, we all have address files for everything from the plumber to the president but a well set out connections book with enough to prompt the memory of updates is important for those who want to get on.

To be on an equal footing with your business associates they need to know five things about you. Are you around? People love to be remembered and, equally, if they don’t get constant reminders they will forget you. They like to know you are succeeding, too. They also want to know where you are and how you can be contacted. Giving them easy access to your updated career progress is critical if you want their help. Get these five things in order and you are well on the way to being on an equal footing.

Some courage and a little creativity is needed to get to know people. Around 1970 my boss took my wife and I to the Royal Opera House in London to see Orfeo ed Euridice with Yvonne Minton in the lead role. She sang beautifully and my boss had tears streaming down his face at times. I found it difficult to know how to thank him imaginatively. I managed to get Miss Minton’s phone number and called and invited her and her husband to dinner with my boss, my wife and myself. We took them to a little Italian restaurant in Covent Garden. At midnight, Yvonne stood up and sang an aria from Orfeo. My boss said it was the best ‘thank you’ he had ever received.

An equal footing means you must try harder than the person you want to match. A gesture of appreciation is always welcome but an unusual, imaginative surprise is even more effective. In fact, being creative with how you deal with people is one of the best ways to get on an equal footing. Of course you must avoid becoming the Court Jester, there simply to amuse people. If you are good company and unusual in your ability to delight others you will be regarded as a friend.

Faced with a problem no market research company would touch because the implied sample size was too big, I rethought the problem and solved it subjectively but adequately. It had cost less than 1% of the researchers’ estimates. It made me friends for life with several people, including a Director of the Bank of England, and guaranteed me jobs for at least ten years.

Equal footing requires competence, creativity and courage.

When you have those three you are home and dry.


Today’s questions:

What can each of us contribute to the Arts to help sustain them in this dark time?

What does ‘assembly’ count for in community building?