When Shu Hattori started working at McKinsey & Co. in 2008, he constantly jotted down in a notebook insights into how to do his job better, harvested from his own experiences and by watching others around him. At one point, a colleague suggested the native of Britain and McGill University commerce graduate consider writing a book. By then, he had amassed about 70 principles drawn from the firm. He trimmed those to 47, which are featured in his new book The McKinsey Edge.
"If you know all of this, it will increase your chances of success, be it at McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, or another demanding company," he said in a phone interview from Shanghai, where, post-McKinsey, he is working on a leadership startup company.
Here are some tips to help you:
Start with the hard stuff in the morning
Your mind is clear and focused early in the day, so tackle the toughest matters before you in the early morning. And that means early. He said the average wake-up time of a chief executive officer is about 5 a.m. Usually he is up at 5:30 a.m., and he recommends you join them.
Have a 30-second answer to everything
Senior leaders expect concise answers. So prepare beforehand for interactions with bosses and clients, writing down questions they might ask and also a terse answer. Think of it as a double-click response – a very brief explanation that might be followed by a deeper explanation in areas where the other person expresses greater interest.
Frontload your projects
Most projects take some time to get going, then build up steam, and finish in a mad flurry. Try starting with a burst. If you contact somebody and they suggest meeting next week, ask about meeting later today. "Put everything you can at the beginning. Build up quickly as it increases your understanding and credibility," he said.
Smile when under stress
He noticed that top people don't lose their cool. So when you're under the gun – being challenged at a meeting, perhaps – instead of tensing up and grimacing, just smile. It will calm you, help control emotions, and send a confident signal.
Always imagine the worst-case scenario
Another reason consultants keep calm in tough situations is that they have taken time to imagine what could go wrong. Mediocre leaders fail to take that preparatory step. When things go awry, they fall into firefighting mode, which can just set them further behind as emotions are unleashed and they scramble in the wrong direction. Instead, he urges you to imagine what could go wrong with a project and then decide, well in advance, what would be the best response. If it happens, you'll avoid panic, and be far more effective.
Ask "What would Marvin do?"
McKinsey's founding managing director was Marvin Bower, and although he died more than a decade ago and the era of his greatest influence was the fifties and sixties, consultants to this day when faced with a tough challenge will ask, "What would Marvin do?" He preached the importance of ethics and knowing when to dissent, and urged his team to have leadership role models. That's advice you should heed. "It can be people close to you or people you have never met. It can be anyone," Mr. Hattori said. And you want a number of them, different role models for each skill you are trying to learn.
Seek energy boosters
Know what gives you energy during the day and use those boosters to become more accomplished. He suggests a 7-3 rule: Make sure the positive-energy tasks in a week outweigh the negative drains by a 7-3 ratio. "Working doesn't drain energy. It stimulates you. But you need to know what aspect of work gives you energy and what doesn't," he said.
Ask the deeper questions
Assume an action you are considering has occurred, and then ask the second level of questions: What will you be facing then? This will take you to a more fruitful level – the consequences of the option you are considering – and help you to understand the situation better.
Oh yeah, and carry a notebook – not taking everything down, but like the top leaders he has studied, writing brief notes that summarize the importance of what you have learned or meetings you have attended. It helped him move ahead in his career, and will for you.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter