Some people come home from dinner with friends carrying a doggy bag. I tend to come home with bruised shins, reminders of my wife's well-placed kicks under the table. You know the kind. It's the universal technique a spouse or partner will use to quietly signal that it's time for you to shut your mouth and stop embarrassing them. Regretfully, my wife has had plenty of opportunities to perfect her aim, given that like curmudgeon Larry David in the TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm, I have a tendency to be a social assassin. A social assassin is someone who lays waste to the social niceties and white lies that frequently smooth human interactions. For example, if we're at dinner and you ask me if I like your new hairstyle, I know I'm supposed to say, "Yes, it looks great!" And I will if I really do.
But what if I think it looks like you took a weed whacker to your head?
I won't tell you that, because I'm not a mean guy.
But I am an honest guy.
So I will answer honestly that no, your new hairstyle isn't that flattering, I liked it the other way.
That's when my wife will kick me.
Hey, you asked!
In my defense, I spend most of my life telling people hard truths, and it can be challenging to remember that outside the office, even when I'm asked, not everyone actually wants to hear them. As a talent agent, however, it's my job to point out any elements that could hurt my clients' careers, whether it's their appearance and dress, their body language, their speech patterns, or their vocal tone, and let them know what they can do to improve so they can deliver their best performance. My company, the Montag Group, represents more than 250 of today's top journalists, broadcast executives, and media personalities—the very faces and voices you've grown to trust and rely on to keep you in the know at CBS, CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, ESPN, and elsewhere. Beyond our broadcast division, which is one of the largest in the industry, we provide guidance to athletes, technology companies, law firms, and international banks, along with top CEOs and entrepreneurs. By and large, most of my clients are already considered stars in their chosen field (though many have been with me since the beginning of their careers), but they still seek out my professional assessment and coaching methods because they believe that, despite all the applause and approval they get from peers, friends, and supporters, and despite all the success they've already enjoyed, they can still do better. That desire to do whatever it takes to excel is the difference between people who are good at what they do, and people who are great.
If you're reading this book, my guess is you want to be the latter. So here's my first piece of advice:
If you want to find out what you're truly made of and reach your utmost potential in work and in life, you must stop taking YES for an answer.
For reasons we'll explore in this book, we get a lot of positive feedback that we don't actually deserve, which means you can't trust all the yesses you hear. In fact, if you've checked off all the obvious boxes necessary for a stellar career in your field—education, credentials, years of experience—but you still aren't where you want to be, that lack of honest feedback is probably part of what's holding you back.
Because face it, if you're doing just fine but you're not truly killing it the way you always dreamed you would, I don't care what anyone else tells you, you're doing something wrong.
Don't you want to know what it is?
If you're frustrated because you're falling short of your potential—whether that means you're getting passed over for promotions, failing to close on new business, being denied pay raises, struggling to retain customers and employees, negotiating ineffectively, lacking positive professional and even personal relationships, or generally not getting the respect, acknowledgment, and recognition you desire—and you want to know why, you have to be willing not only to accept criticism, but also seek it out. You have to find someone who cares enough to tell you when you aren't all that, and accept that a "no" is often more helpful than a "yes."
I came by this knowledge the hard way. In fact, I owe my entire career to a boss who would not give me the "yes" I expected to hear.