Be Valuable Like Steven Strasburg

Steven Strasburg’s knee buckled recently, and that provoked major panic and concern from the people he worked for, writers, and a crowd of adorers.  He caught his foot in some grass and crumpled.

Wouldn’t it be great if your boss or the agency Secretary or, as in this case, the owner of your company, made sure you were ok to carry out your job if your group’s numbers buckled or your motivation buckled or your mind buckled from the stress of a 24/7 workplace?

Concern happens; that is, when you are considered valuable.

And Steven Strasburg is $15.1 million valuable.  Steven left San Diego State University in 2009 to be hired as a pitcher by the Washington Nationals baseball team for a contract worth $15.1 mill.  There is a lot of future staked on Steven Strasburg – future wins, future fans, and future dollars from those fans.

Most of us bemoan the salaries paid to athletes – that’s old news.  Why not turn that around.  How could I be valuable like Steven Strasburg?

OK, so maybe the $15.1 isn’t happening anytime soon.  But with a lot of our nerves jangling about whether our jobs will hold or whether there is a job out there for me, it seems like a good time to demonstrate value.  Steven has, at times, a 100 mph fastball.  The potential use of that speed makes him elite – a $15 million dollar man.  What is our equivalent?  What is the 100 mph fastball that we offer our employer, a potential employer, or a customer?

Here are some things that are valuable.  I say they are valuable because when I get them as a customer, I want them and appreciate them.

Be Distinct.  A few years ago, I was in competition for a consulting contract for a health care system.  For some reason, I was tired of putting the same old proposed ideas out there.   It was an opportunity to help them improve the cultural competence of their employees.  What would stand out, what would be different?  I proposed a cultural “mystery shopping” assessment, where we would test their employees on cultural challenges, just like mystery shoppers test the responses of retail employees.  In fact, we even did a little testing before they decided and showed them some real live issues they were confronting.  I’m convinced that idea was the big reason we got that contract.  No one had done it.

How can you distinguish yourself in a substantive way?  Are you tired of how you act in meetings, or how you run them?  Could you bring in outside opinions in some way – customers, constituents, kids?  How about altering how you communicate verbally or in writing so that you really stand out?  (For tips on that, check out a book called Pop by Sam Horn, or go to Sam’s website at

Initiate.  I know.  You’ve got too much to do.  (See the article on “The Cost of Pressure and Overload” in this issue.)  But that is the issue that can subtly make our value stand out less.  All of us are so into doing and accomplishing that we are hard-pressed to be strategic in our thinking and proactive in our action.  But thinking strategically, and then initiating, is a great way to really demonstrate value.

A colleague complains in a way similar to so many leaders I’ve talked to in the past:  “Why do I have to remind people to initiate?  I don’t understand why I can’t get people to think things through.  It seems so obvious to me; for example, when we have a proposal.  Our folks are waiting for their customers to ask them to do things.  I want people to understand what the customer wants and add value by presenting options to meet those needs.”

Initiation doesn’t have to mean large amounts of time on new projects that add to your pile.  It can simply mean thinking about the implications of a job to be done or a proposal or presentation and demonstrating that you have thought things through by presenting alternatives.

Take a Load Off.  I have the best accountant!  Whenever I call her after stressing out about some complicated tax calculation or figuring out that, if I sell my books in 50 states, that I have to fill out state tax forms in each state (yes, it’s true!), I call expecting to plunge into hours of complexity and drudgery.  Invariably, she says something like, “Oh, that’s easy.”  (Use that phrase.  I love hearing it, don’t you?)  “I can do this and this, and it won’t take long at all (that second clause is a good one to use, too, especially when I’m paying her by the hour).”

And she’s got another really good one, too.  “I’ll take care of that.”

When she says that, I love the feeling I get so much that I’ve started using the phrase  “would you like me to take care of that” with my customers.  I have to believe my customers love it as much as I do when Linda says it to me.

In a global, frenzied workplace, what better way to demonstrate your value than by relieving somebody – your boss, the prospective employer, a project manager?

Now, I do hear the voices out there saying, “How am I going to initiate and take care of other’s needs when my plate is already full?”  I get that.  It’s a totally understandable reaction.

I’m suggesting an attitude of being valuable.  Of course you will balance this with your to-dos and pick times that are appropriate to initiate.  But how does Linda do it?  How does Sam Horn do it?  If you do check Sam’s website, you’ll see she’s found many ways to “be distinct” and thus create her 100 mph fastball that makes her a valued, sought-after speaker and advisor.

Being distinct.  Initiating.  Taking a load off someone else.  Wouldn’t you want a person who innovates, thinks through, and follows through?  Maybe you wouldn’t pay them $15 million, but you’d want someone like that working for you, consulting to you, managing you, or working with you, wouldn’t you?  Maybe you’d even make sure their knee was ok.

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