The Power of One Word

Recently I was at the golf course, my happy place, when I saw one of my favorite athletes ahead of me, Ray Allen. Ray Allen is a legend for his steady and exceptional play and has the NBA championship rings and the Olympic gold medal to prove it. I couldn't resist the opportunity to say hello and ask him one question. He was kind enough to indulge me.

"Ray," I said. "When the game is tight and you are on the line, making the shot, what goes through your head?"

He says there is one word, preparation. He's prepared for this moment, he's trained for this moment, he's taken thousands of shots so that he has the best chance of making this one. Why does he work so hard? His answer was simple: "That's my job."

This stuck with me as I went through the next week. I shared the story with my offices, amused and enlightened to hear what one word they thought Ray Allen might have said in answer to my question. There were many answers and I realized that within the answers was something deeper, an insight into the words they each used to define themselves.

When we meet people one of the first questions we ask them is what they do for a living. Generally once we gain the information, we move on, and so do they. It's a simple and banal informational transaction. But what we don't ask is a question similar to what I asked Ray: "Tell me, in one word, what defines what you do, or makes you good at your job."

In my office meetings this week, I've challenged my teams to define their one word but I've also inspired them to ask this question of the people they meet. The word they use to define themselves is key, it's a talismanic reminder of who they are and what matters most to them. The true power though, lies as much in asking this question as it does in answering it.

Real estate is a relationship business but too often the connections we make can float on the surface. Asking someone to choose one word to define what they do often causes them to pause, take a beat, and answer, not by rote, but from the heart and reawakens the passion that drives them in their chosen career. In business we are always striving to be memorable, always presenting ourselves in a way to leave a lasting presentation. However, I've learned that the most important thing I can do sometimes is ask the questions that matter and listen carefully to the answers.

What's your word?