When planning a trip to Napa Valley recently, a helpful friend who had already travelled there gave me a tip on her favourite vineyard excursion. "The best tour of California's wine country," she declared with utter certainty, "is to be driven".
I thought about her statement for a minute. Not about the obvious need to acquire someone who isn't going to be tasting a wide variety of potent potables to sit behind the steering wheel on my behalf, but about the need to be driven throughout one's career, business and life in general.
1 Be driven
Successful leaders often describe their top three characteristics as being "passionate, committed and driven".
Self-motivation, however, is tough. It's no wonder that a University of Scranton study found only 8pc of people who made a new year's resolution were able to meet their goal. Ouch. Does that ring true with you?
We're only in February, but have you already given up? I find one of the best self-motivators is to get out of yourself and actively connect with others.
How fitting, then, that the person I've decided to connect you with today to share communication tips and experiences to keep you driven is Justine McGovern, director of the California Wine Institute, UK and Ireland.
Justine helps California and Napa Valley exporters get their wines represented and promoted, while at the same time helping importers sell the wine when it's here. She's truly a driven connector - who points out that she doesn't drive solo.
"Every single part of my day involves relationships. I couldn't achieve anything without having strong communications with some of the greatest people in the wine trade," Justine told me this past week from her home outside Dublin.
2 Be the initiator
Like with that Napa Valley driver I clearly must hire, I can't expect helpful people to magically come to me. I need to reach out. First. Likewise, when Justine travels to large trade shows, it's crucial that she instigates contacts and actively builds her network.
"When I was first put in this market, I didn't know anyone in the UK. Nobody. At first it was discouraging because everyone knew everyone else there. But step by step, piece by piece, I really made some great friends and now it feels like overnight," she said.
3 Be nice
But how to get started? Well, the morning I wrote this column, I led a video training session for a group of sales executives in Australia. We were discussing opening lines for networking events and some of the best are the simplest. Try smiling, extending your hand and saying: 'Good morning, I'm (fill-in-the-blank), how are you?'
Obviously, if it's an afternoon or evening event, adjust your time accordingly.
Justine advised: "Just be nice. The great thing about it is it makes up heaps of time.
"I'm naturally sociable, but that doesn't mean that I'm not daunted by some situations and have to try as well.
"Every single day, I can be many things. I can be grouchy or whatever. But you have to smile at people in life. In the grocery store, for example, I smiled at the girl at the counter and I told her about my busy day and she shared hers. We had a little moment.
"The little moments add up. You can expand this positivity into your work."
4 Be in-person
The married mother of three young children underscored the importance of in-person meetings.
"To me, email is just an admin function," Justine stated. "You just get through it. But to truly solidify relationships, you must get face-to-face with people. It can't all happen on video calls. You have to go meet them. Every day, I use the telephone, video links, Zoom video conferencing and Skype because what is fundamentally important is talking to people and when you can, seeing and meeting them."
5 Be attentive
From opportunities to pay a compliment to opportunities to support, when you get out of yourself you will observe people in ways others may overlook.
"Pay people compliments," Justine said. "It can go a long way. If your compliments are genuine, you often pick out something of the person that means the most to them. Be it earrings, style of clothing, haircuts.
"Also, when there's a group dynamic, pay close attention. Once, when we brought a group to California, there was a young woman who seemed a little distant, who didn't appear to be fully joining in. I noticed that when everyone was stepping up to a counter to order coffee, she said she didn't want one. I said, 'I'll buy you one', and then she felt comfortable enough to tell me she had forgotten her wallet and hadn't wanted to tell anyone."
For Justine, switching her focus to others, trying even when she felt uncertain and reaching out first not only allowed her to connect with people and make important relationships, but also put her squarely in the, you guessed it, driver's seat of her career.
NEXT WEEK ON THE COMMUNICATOR:
What's the difference between employee communications and executive communications? I talk to the head of Ireland's Executive Institute to find out.
Sunday Indo Business