During my second year of business school, I launched my first company, an online registry that was acquired and is now part of The Knot. It was during this time that I first leveraged much of my new b-school knowledge, and also gained insights that are best acquired in the trenches. Starting from nothing, my partners and I relied heavily on support and validation from key partners. After a great deal of hustle, we were certain we had secured an important retail deal; they were enthusiastic about our concept and we had developed a strong rapport. However, we were devastated when we woke up one morning to a press release announcing that they had signed with a competitor.
Given the established relationship, we were able to schedule a call with our contact to find out why they did not select us. Their explanation had nothing to do with concept, marketing, execution, skill level or anything else that we believed to be important. The exact reason, and I quote, was: “They were willing to date us…they traveled long distance…they showed up.” In short, it was all about the relationship. Not the phone, email, or text relationship…but the old fashioned, in person, hop on a plane, shake hands, roll up your sleeves and get to work side by side, type of relationship. Reflecting on that time, one of the most important lessons that I took away was this: Show Up.
Years later, I reflected on that experience while reading an article about music executive Lyor Cohen. Cohen, who has worked with artists such as Jay-Z, Bon Jovi, Kanye West and Elvis Costello, was discussing the keys to his success. Number one on his list was to “Show Up”. He explained that in our current world, showing up is unusual. During a time when everyone relies on efficient forms of quick and impersonal communication, walking in the door and being present for someone is unique and valued. Again and again, he proved that merely showing up cemented relationships and closed deals. One of his closest friends and business associates, Russell Simmons, had this to say about him: “His relationships last. People say how tough he is. Some even call him…that bastard. But he is always there, you know what I mean?” I did know exactly what he meant.
I have witnessed clients reverse important decisions by knocking on a decision-maker’s door and making their case. I’ve seen deep partnerships forged because someone picked up at the airport instead of sending a car.
I am certain that showing up can be a game changer for business, and I also believe it’s a game changer for life.
Have you ever wanted to avoid a situation because you weren’t sure what to say? Maybe a funeral, or calling a troubled friend or saying goodbye? A few years ago, I went through one of the most difficult periods in my life. There were people who disappeared during that time and I understood why. There were others, sometimes people I barely knew, who showed up. In my situation, in-person was not always appropriate or desired. A quick text, a phone message, a card…all different ways of being there. They all made a difference and I will never forget. More recently, an acquaintance lost her husband and the father to her infant daughter. The first time I saw her, I wanted to run and hide. What could I possibly say to her? And then I remembered: just show up.
Every situation and person is different. There is no magic word or formula that will close a deal, secure an acceptance letter or get you through a rough patch. Sometimes there is nothing to say or do. Sometimes the secret is simple. Sometimes you just show up.