I went out to lunch today. Really. Even as you've read this week about the slashing and shrinking inside my company, Time Inc. (TWX), and across the magazine industry (even Conde Nast, the proud, privately-held protector of privilege and perks is axing), I have to eat. I have to schmooze. My job depends upon it.
Allow me to defend the expense-account lunch. Here are my rules of (lunchtime) engagement, honed over 24 years at Fortune (I survived!) as I've watched how powerful people climb higher than I have:
1. Get out of the office. You won't reach any pinnacle of power--the top job in your company, stardom in your industry, a great gig--by eating at your desk. Today, more than ever, power is about making connections. While information is a commodity (anyone can get it by going online), real knowledge comes come from sharing ideas. In my quarter-century at Fortune, how many times have I eaten at my desk? Once.
2. Find neutral territory. While I don't indulge my expense account daily (I often eat in the caf, alone), I court key contacts on neutral ground--not their turf, not mine. Neutral territory equalizes parties. My best spot: Michael's, the media-honcho mecca in midtown Manhattan. If not for lunch over Michael's Nicoise salad, I swear, I would not have scored exclusive "gets" for Fortune such as profiles of Martha Stewart (MSO) post-prison, hedge-fund investor and Sears Holdings (SHLD) chairman Eddie Lampert, and General Electric (GE) bosses Jeff Zucker and Dick Ebersol. Not to mention countless stories for Fortune's annual Most Powerful Women issue.
3. Give and Take. To win anything that's hard to get, I've learned, it pays to share something important that you don't want the other person to pass on. Trust the person. Then they feel compelled to trust you. The hitch: You can't do this by email or phone. Meet face to face to read their character. Build the trust over lunch. Then, never break it. For a journalist like me, this doesn't mean writing a puff piece. It means playing fair.
4. Redefine your power. Real power is personal power, as I noted in my first blog post the day we launched Postcards last June. The concept is more potent now that we're in treacherous times: Real power is the power you have even if you lose your big job or lofty position. Use the lunch out to build your network and maybe the lifeline you thought you'd never need.
5. Enter the conversation. When Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black, my lunch-mate one day at Michael's, told me this advice about blogging, I didn't realize how valuable it would be. Black is no blog expert, she admits, but one bonafide expert who visited Hearst told the execs there that the most successful bloggers don't start conversations; they pick up on the buzz out there already. And they chime in. So, as cost cuts are all the buzz in my business, I'll chime in: We'll know things have really turned ugly when people stop meeting for lunch.
P.S. Michael's GM Steve Millington, in his Guest Post, recollects his most nerve-wracking day a few years ago. But his story has relevance today. One character in it is Vanity Fair writer Michael Wolff, who's kicking up controversy with his soon-to-be-released bio of News Corp. (NWS) CEO Rupert Murdoch, The Man Who Owns the News. Moreover, in a lousy economy, it's more critical than ever to love your best customers--as Millington knows how to do.
I'm just back from three weeks away. I vowed to keep Postcards up to date while I was gone, and with the help of the incomparable Jessica Shambora, the enterprising reporter we hired in June, we did it! We're posting twice a day--including a daily Power Point, which is a piece of career advice or strategic insight that might help you navigate your career and even your life. At least, MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 28, 2008 4:13 PM ET
We're expanding our Most Powerful Women coverage this year to spotlight rising stars whom we think have a good chance to be on our annual list someday. I'll be interviewing three of them at an upcoming MPWomen dinner in San Francisco.
Fortune reporter Jessica Shambora, who is handling the MPWomen list research this year, asked our three panelists for their definition of power. Their responses reflected common themes around the ability MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 18, 2008 12:05 PM ET
Greetings from the pinnacle! As I launch this blog, Postcards, I'm perched on the 15th floor of the Time & Life Building in the center of Manhattan -- overlooking Rockefeller Center, to be precise. I have a sense, though, that I'm scanning the entire universe -- wanting to share with you the most fascinating, most fun, and most valuable ideas about super-achievers and other powerful people.
I have lots of ideas MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 10, 2008 8:20 PM ET
Men think about power vertically -- and focus on rank and status and size. Women think about power horizontally -- it's largely about influence. I know I'm in trouble already. This is a stereotype, indeed. But in more than a decade of asking women leaders -- and the men they work with -- how they define power, I've discovered this to be an remarkably consistent truth. My favorite definition of MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 10, 2008 10:51 AM ET
"One thing I've learned playing with people at the top of their game, from captains of industry to rock stars, is that they want to do the things that unsuccessful people don't want to do. They want the risks and the responsibility, whereas others want the comfort in mediocrity."
- David Feherty, CBS Sports golf analyst shared this with me in a conversation this afternoon, casting himself in the role of MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jun 25, 2008 9:51 PM ET
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