I used to think being successful in business was all about business. Knowing strategy. Analyzing data. Speaking convincingly. Networking. Going to the right schools. The longer I work the more I realize it is about relationships. You have to have the tangible skills to understand business and win, but what really separates people is their ability to influence others.
People want to work with the support people they like and respect. That is a very important sentence. They don't necessarily want to work with and support the SMARTEST person. They don't necessarily want to work with and support the BOLDEST person. They want to support people they like and respect. Those are the people they will work late for and run through walls for.
So how do you become that person? You need to be truly interested in other people and be interesting. Someone people can learn from and have a conversation with.
Being interested and interesting are two very different things and they often are in conflict. Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People is the best read on how to be an interested person. The main skill is active listening. Truly caring about what a person is saying. Being curious enough to ask follow up questions to get deeper. It sounds easy, but most people are terrible listeners. They are rushed. They are thinking about the next thing THEY can say to add to the conversation. This is why being interested is a unique skill that if you can possess it will let you stand out.
Being interesting is very personal. Truly interesting people aren't trying to be interesting. They just are via what they do outside of work. They might be really into windsurfing or yoga or history or flowers or nutrition or reading or whatever. They have some passions OUTSIDE of the day to day grind of work.
Work can be so overwhelming that it completely sucks you in. You have no time for anything else. For brief periods where you need to really grind this is ok. Long term it is not ok. If you JUST have work, then you don't have time to be interesting. When you go to a party and see the eyes glaze over when you talk about work for 4 minutes you can get a feel for how little people care about the details of your work. I don't care what you do. Most people don't really care.
People do care about other topics though. If you can bring some of that into work, then you can form bonds that are beyond just work. People get to know you as a human being. If you combine this with strong work skills, then you form into someone people want to support.
Take the time to be interesting. And do this for YOU. Don't read books you think people will find interesting. What do YOU want to read? Don't just play golf because it's expected. Play because YOU like it. Own what you like. Even if it's a little weird. That's ok. Just own it and have some passion for it.
Having some passions outside of work and caring for the people around you will go a long way. It can be easy to forget this stuff when work heats up, but it's critical for you long term success and happiness.