June 4, 2011
I am frequently asked about my career, often by recent grads that are looking for career advice. I enjoy these discussions, because they provide a great sense of gratification that I am hopefully able to help someone else achieve their goals.
It was during one of these recent discussions that I stumbled upon the recognition of one the keys that have contributed to my success, starting from the very beginning. For the last 30+ years, 7am has been the time that I arrive in the office or at my first meeting of the day.
This started with my first job and my first boss at IBM. He was a manager on the fast track and was in the office every morning at 7. He did this because his schedule between 9 and 5 was packed and sliced into dozen's of meetings. Between 7 and 9am was his planning time, his thinking time, and over a coffee, his social time. He had a young family, so he was usually out of the office by 6pm.
I quickly discovered that between 7 and 8 am, he and I were the only ones in the office so I got access to him, whether it was discussing a business issue, mentoring or social. He got to know me, he became my mentor and he became an early sponsor who pushed me into places that I would not have had an opportunity for otherwise.
Through my next series of jobs and new bosses, I discovered that this 7am start time was not unique to him. Many managers and executives, who were aiming higher, started their day early. So did customer executives. Clients, whose schedules were unavailable during the business day, were accessible at 7am.
7am is a time where you can form relationships, receive mentoring and be noticed by important people to whom you would otherwise be anonymous.
As I moved into more senior roles, my go-to team were the people whom I interacted with between 7am and 9am. They got more of my attention and I relied on them more. They got opportunities others didn't. If they performed, they got promoted faster.
7am causes you to form impressions about people. For a while in my career, I had responsibility for an organization in Montreal. I used to get up at 5 or before to catch to 6:30 flight which landed at Dorval at 7:30 and got me into the Montreal office at 8. It bothered me that I was usually the one opening the office and putting on the first pot of coffee.
Even now, thirty years into my career, I stick with my 7am regiment. On average, I schedule eight to ten 7am breakfast meetings a month. People, who would otherwise take eight weeks to get on their calendar, meet with me within two weeks notice.
If you are young, ambitious, and want to get noticed, getting up early may be the way to go. Besides, traffic at 6am is a lot less frustrating.