Success is often a product of hard work. So, too, is the ability to observe and the willingness to adapt.
Four recent Forty Under 40 honorees share thoughts on the most important lessons they have learned on the job.
On managing expectations
Everyone likes to win, whether you’re playing Monopoly, managing a fantasy football team or filing legal papers on a past-due debt.
But with every endeavor comes a risk-reward assessment, especially in the courtroom. Yes, you can file suit. That doesn’t mean you’ll automatically win.
David Tang, a partner at Underberg & Kessler and a member of the Forty Under 40 Class of 2013, practices in the areas of creditors’ rights, health care and litigation. He wants his client to understand right away the likelihood of outcomes.
“Managing expectations is very important — those that are my own and also those of the client — and so is communicating those expectations well and in an honest and upfront fashion,” he said.
For Tang, that means providing clients with the latest happenings in a case, good or bad.
“I report the news and do it up front without delay.”
Part of expectations-management deals with the probable outcome of a case. Is the client likely to prevail? Is it a 50-50 call? Will a legal action cost the client more than can be recovered?
“Not every client is going to want to spend $20,000 to recover $15,000,” Tang said. “You need to get enough facts early so you can make an early analysis report.
“Some clients are principle-based and will spend $15,000 to recover $15,000. If that happens, we’ve already had the conversation, so at least they know.”
On being a successful leader
How a leader oversees a team is critical, Ebony Miller believes. She oversees RIT’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship, a position she has held since 2015.
“In a leadership role, it’s very important to know there’s no such thing as a cookie-cutter approach. What works for one may not work for all,” said Miller, a member of the Forty Under 40 Class of 2016.
“Your team ultimately is only as strong as the staff you’re leading.”
Understanding the staff traits and differences is very important. Each staff member is an individual, with their own talents, personalities and quirks. And a team quite likely will endure change as staffers move up or move elsewhere.
“You need to lead not just from an overall perspective, but also from a perspective of what works for each individual. ‘How can I help you be successful in your role as a team member?’
“It’s not about the leader but rather those that you’re leading, and being instrumental in their growth.”
On the importance of poise
We all know that no one is perfect. How you deal with imperfection may, however, impact the workplace and the bottom line.
“Mistakes happen and things go wrong all the time,” said Chris Gamble, a partner at RDG+Partners Accounting & CPA Services and a member of the Forty Under 40 Class of 2009. “When a mistake happens, people tend to beat themselves up and chaos ensues. I’ve seen it happen.
“When you’re able to approach it calmly and without overreacting, then you don’t create a higher level of anxiety. ‘OK, we made a mistake, let’s figure out the best way to fix it.’ In my world, we can fix them.”
The solution often isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, nor is it necessarily needed yesterday. Calmer heads allow for reasonable analysis of the situation, followed by an assessment of possible remedies.
“When I was young, it was all about reacting quickly. Being responsive is important, but slowing down, having poise and deciding on the best course of action is more important.
“If the person in charge is all fired up, where are you going? When you’re all high-anxiety, you’re not thinking clearly.”
On treating everyone with respect
You may be on top of the company food chain, but that doesn’t mean those in subordinate roles don’t play an important part in the company’s success. As Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Rita Nischal, corporate counsel for Canandaigua National Bank & Trust and a member of the Forty Under 40 Class of 2018, shares a similar philosophy. She believes everyone is deserving of the same level of respect.
“The assistants and everyone else, you can learn a lot from them, and you should never discount the value they provide,” she said.
Stubborn and rigid also don’t fit in well in the workplace.
“You need to be flexible,” Nischal said. “You need to be flexible with your time and you need to be able to try to do different things. Times change and you have to be able to change yourself.”