What does it take to be #1 in your space? Benjamin Loh, one of the youngest Certified Speaking Professionals (CSP), an accolade accorded to the top 12% of professional speakers globally, shares his insights.
As a professional Millennial speaker, many often think I’ve one of the most enviable jobs in the world.
With the blessings from my clients, I’ve had the opportunities to travel to over 15 cities in 2019 alone and be on stages from Singapore to Sydney to share my work and experiences.
For most parts, that has been true.
Yet what many may not see — while it’s a thorough joy to (hopefully) be a cause and catalyst in having minds and lives being changed on-stage as a speaker, the times I’ve cherished most were always those when I was off-stage, as a learner.
To me, I’ve always believed that the best and most effective speakers on-stage are also the ones who are the most diligent, intense and grounded learners off-stage.
In this spirit, this was indeed what I learnt off-stage being one of the invited keynote speakers of the Breakthrough Boundaries Conference 2020 — Unshakeable, Reinvent Your Game in Kuching, Malaysia. It gathered over 1,000 elite life insurance consultants from Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Yet while it was immensely rewarding to be a speaker, it was even more fruitful to be in the audience’s seat for two other co-speakers. Queenie and Jasmine (profiles below)… are the top consultants in the thousands of others (like in Singapore, it’s 5,000+ of them) at the Hong Kong and Singapore agencies of Prudential, respectively.
For ease of narration, I’ll just term Queenie and Jasmine as ‘Q & J’.
These were the 7 key lessons I’ve observed and learnt from them that I thought, made them the #1 in their space:
1. Reset Yourself Back to Zero
The problem with attaining success early on in your career is that it lulls you into complacency and laziness.
Because it’s when you think you’re already good enough that it stops you from wanting to get better.
Yet for Q & J, they both have this uncanny ability to reset themselves back to zero, every single day. They are able to “empty their cup” and be open and willing to take on and receive life experiences and lessons. They don’t let their successes of yesterday be impediments to them striving for more, today and tomorrow.
I’d quietly observe both ladies and insofar as we were all speakers for the event, it didn’t stop them from sitting in for all the other speaker sessions and taking down copious notes. They didn’t feel that they were above learning (or be “full of themselves”) in spite of them being at their top.
And this has been while I’ve observed from the top of trades — they know that their ability to constantly learn and execute is what got them to the top and what will keep them there.
Lesson — Be able to face every new day with an “empty cup mindset” (空杯心态). No matter how great or terrible yesterday was, today is your best gift so cherish and make the best of it.
2. It’s about your Inner Game — Emotional Mastery
Emotional intelligence has been a term introduced in 1990 by researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey,
“Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.”
Author Daniel Goleman, later proposes to HBR,
“The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.”
There are usually four competencies associated with emotional intelligence and they are Self-awareness, Self-management, Social awareness and Relationship management.
Jasmine related how her sales journey as a financial consultant, it was hardly a bed of roses. In fact, there have been times when she has been rejected and told off publicly. It was so bad that on a couple of occasions at shopping malls, she would run to the ladies and bawl her heart out.
But she shared that she would not allow herself to be upset for more than 5-minutes.
This meant that Jasmine did not deny herself her emotional right to be hurt or dejected or upset. Yet, she knew in the grand scheme of things, wallowing in self-pity will not forward her one bit.
It was akin to what my first boss and sales coach, Joel, once told me,
“Ben, every day you’ve to be a man on a mission. In this game of sales, it’s more mental than emotional. The more emotional beating you receive, the more mentally resilient you’ve to be.”
Well if you must know — he was unsurprisingly… a US West Point Military graduate.
Lesson — The more emotionally aware and resilient you grow to be, the less susceptible you will be to your surroundings, the more control you will be of your game. Seek mastery of thy self.
3. Build Support Systems and Centres of Influence around Themselves
For perspective sake — to have a sustainable practice, the average financial consultant in Singapore usually has upwards of 500 clients. According to Jasmine, her clientele is above a thousand!
You would think that the quality and depth of service would suffer at that quantum.
On the contrary, she’s been running her financial advisory business like a tight ship, thanks to a strong support system at her office.
Over the years, she has trialled and errored and found the ideal tempo for her Personal Assistants (PA) to review agendas like her client’s important life milestones, financial review windows to even their and their loved ones’ birthdays, professional attainments and all noteworthy moments, on a week-to-week basis.
In fact, if we are to recognize that all businesses are people businesses, our success (or lack of) all boils down to how we make our clients feel acknowledged and appreciated (both at their work and as unique individuals), above and beyond the value we deliver and professional competencies under our belt.
Likewise, for Queenie, she actively nurtures and curates her network and establishes Centres of Influences (COIs) from a variety of sectors and professions like doctors, lawyers, private bankers, tax accountants, and entrepreneurs because she can be a nexus of immense value for her High Networth Individual (HNWI) clients whether in their professional or personal endeavours.
This African proverb probably hits home,
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
In your long game in life, who do you need to run with… to run far, together?
Lesson — It takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a team of “A-players” to help you win your game of life and business.
4. The Right Strategy Precedes Hard Work
I’m subscribed to several entrepreneurs group on Facebook and a common word in the lexicon of the high-octane and exceedingly motivated individuals in those groups is… “hustle”.
Perhaps (over) popularized by American entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuck, you will not succeed if hustling is not in your blood.
Don’t get me wrong.
Hard work is immensely important. It’s almost unmistakable that both Q & J put in crazy amounts of hours at work.
Like for Jasmine, she shared that she was still meeting her clients in the final trimester of her pregnancy and advising them in between bouts of nausea. The joke has it that her clients were so concerned about her giving birth at their places that they quickly gave their endorsement and sign-offs on their policy contracts. Of course, it was also because of the trust they had in Jasmine!
Yet, both Q & J are extremely clear that as they scaled to their #1 position respectively, it was not just a function of working hard… but working smart too.
After all, if you’re not working hard, you shouldn’t be in the game.
Working smart entails several aspects like some of the pointers mentioned previously and more so, the strategy of winning and building your sustainable advantages in your game of business.
As a quick sneak peek, their strategy comprises deep knowledge of and insights into their ideal clientele group (like it’s the HNWI for Queenie instead of being a “mass-market” consultant), investing energy and resources to be valuable to their clients, knowing the relevant buying cycles for them and their core motivators, becoming an all-rounder sales professional (with the requisite IQ, EQ, Adversity Quotient (AQ) and Spirituality Quotient (SQ) etc.)
There’s a Chinese saying that goes,
Put it simply, it’s important to make the right choices before working hard or so we know, hustling.
It’s important to climb the ladder but we’ve got to ask ourselves constantly if our ladder is leaning against the right wall?
Lesson — When working hard is the most common denominator, it takes having the clarity and execution of the right strategy to give you the long-term advantage.
5. Building in Time and Spaces for Active Reflection and Awareness
If there’s also something I’ve realized about top performers, it’s that they are also acutely aware of themselves. And it sure doesn’t come overnight.
When an audience asked Queenie about what are some rituals and steps she has undertaken to develop herself to be ready to serve her clientele, the first remark that came to her was enveloped in a Chinese classic – ‘吾日三省吾身’
This Chinese proverb was adapted from an interaction when Confucius was 69 years old and he was asking his disciples what were their guiding principles in Life. Zeng, one of his disciples said:
“Every day, I reflect on three things. First, have I given my level best in all the work I do? Second, have I honoured my word with friends and people in my life? Third, have I learnt and practised what my teachers have taught me?”
Confucius remarked satisfactorily and said,
“Do these three things well and you’ll be a true gentleman in this life”
Harry Kraemer former CEO of multibillion-dollar healthcare company Baxter International has also warned executives not to mistake activity for productivity and that, productivity demands self-reflection. Here are his 8 ‘Daily Self-Examination Questions’
When was the last time you spent time with yourself, by yourself and for yourself?
Lesson — The more intense and compressed the lives we lead, the more we should make time for the most important person in our lives who run it all — ourselves.
6. Convince their Minds, Engage with Your Heart
In the personal and professional development fields, there’s been an endless debate around the value and relative importance of hard versus soft skills.
Hard skills like coding, data analytics, programming, quantified finance, technical analysis etc. are usually acquired through formal education and for the functional purposes of employment and performance of tasks.
Soft skills on the other hand like relationship management, empathy, communications, and listening skills are usually honed through social learning and developed informally.
When I observed how Q & J ran their businesses, it was evident that they are extremely well-rounded professionals with the right blend of hard and soft skills in their professional engagements.
For example, Queenie was sharing on when she was relating to HNWI clients from China, she’d be known and loved for her ability to make her clients feel deeply loved.
For example, she’ll be great at taking Instagram-worthy photos then editing them meticulously and even, printing them in some polaroid frames so she remains top-of-mind for her female clientele. During key festivals, she’ll reward her clients with cookies and pastries she baked on her own.
The Weather App in her iPhone has visibility of the climate conditions of over 20 cities and when a city that her key clients are in turns too rainy and chilly, she would send a text reminder for them to bring a brolly out lest they catch a cold.
But she’s not just… another “relationship salesperson”.
When she sits down with an established Chinese entrepreneur client, she’s well conversant about the myriad specialist knowledge bases that are crucial to them like asset management strategies, taxation laws and implications, estate planning processes to even Chinese classics and macro-economic forces driving the East and West etc.
Lesson — The best professionals in your space are never one-dimensional. They see themselves as evolving individuals. They know that to serve at their highest level, it’s about convincing with intellect and engaging with their hearts.
7. Their Biggest Competitor — Themselves
This is probably the subtlest but most defining characteristic trait for Q & J and as a larger manifestation of Trait #1.
When you interact with them, there’s a quiet sense of self-assuredness with their humility to learn even when they are at the top of their game. They know that every single day is a new opportunity to challenge and better themselves.
And their biggest competitor is not the #1 on their way up or the #2 as they strive to maintain their stronghold. Their biggest competitor will always remain as themselves.
It’s important to note that this stance comes not from a space of being self-conceited or arrogance (“no one else is worthy of my competing with”).
Instead, the most sustainable and meaningful way to better yourself today is to make sure you’ve outgrown yourself yesterday.
Recounting her idol, the late Kobe Bryant, from the earlier days when she was a competitive basketball player, Jasmine shared how the ‘Mamba Mentality’ has been a guiding compass in her personal and professional growth.
Both Q & J shine in their own light and ways because their insatiable appetite for their own development doesn’t come from spite or jealousy or insecurity. But it is the fierce pursuit of being the best versions of themselves, guided by a larger cause and purpose that inspires others.
Lesson — When you strive to be the best version of yourself, you are guided along the most important journey of your life to also discover your best gifts, talents and purpose for this world we live in.
For me as a professional speaker, while I don’t advise or sell as a mainstay of my work… these lessons have been highly reminiscent of my personal journey too.
Like for Lesson #7, the lure is always there to be like that charismatic popular speaker. But it was only after I realise that the most important person I had to better wasn’t the next flashy guy on Instagram or Youtube, but that one person in the mirror, it made this work of mine more grounded and purposeful. That my life’s work is likewise to uncover my truest gifts, purpose and my voice.
As you can see, learning from Queenie and Jasmine has been most rewarding and humbling too.
Which is the lesson you resonate with the most and why?
About Benjamin Loh
Benjamin Loh is one of the youngest Certified Speaking Professionals (CSP), an accolade accorded to the top 12% of professional speakers globally.
In the life insurance industry, Ben’s focus is on helping leaders and professionals be #TopofMind with the audience they served. He has spoken and trained over 55,000 professional advisors across 9 countries in Asia and also been a keynote speaker at the Asia Pacific Life Insurance Congress (APLIC), MDRT Day Indonesia 2019, MDRT Day Malaysia 2022.
He has advised, consulted and coached numerous top-performing agency leaders ans is also the the ‘advising CMO’ to a $20M group and agency in Singapore for a leading Fortune-500 life insurance corporation.
His work and insights have been featured on over 70 occassions on platforms like The Huff Post, Straits Times, Radio TV HK etc.
* Shared with permission, this article was first published by Benjamin Loh on Medium.
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