In the Spring of 1978, following my father’s instructions, I walked into my first business-networking event. I was 18 years old, and my residential remodeling company was two days old, having started it the Monday after I graduated high school. (I had taken the weekend to “find myself.”)
I had been working with Dad in his remodeling company since I was 12. Weekday evenings when I didn’t have schoolwork or activities, I rode along on sales calls, unloaded his truck or helped with a trip to the lumberyard. Weekends and summers, I did everything from hold his hammer to oversee the crew when he had to leave the jobsite.
By the time I turned 18, I could build a house from the ground up. I had fired grown men who had families to feed, all the while avoiding getting my skinny butt kicked. I ran a crew of 10 (occasionally), got my own work done, knew the moment the guy on the other side of the building stopped to blow his nose and had survived several bar brawls without so much as a scratch.
But I had never experienced fear remotely equivalent to what I felt walking into that room of suits.
When it came to skills, Dad’s teaching method was to show me once, watch me once, correct me once (if needed), then let me screw it up until I got it right. But when it came to attitude training, it was deep-end-of-the-pool time for me.
Following Dad’s advice, I didn’t wear a suit – partially because I didn’t own one, but mostly because it was a morning event, and I had to be on the jobsite immediately after the event ended.
Work boots. War-stained painters pants. T-shirt. Faded baseball cap. (This may actually seem reasonable today. But I’m talking 1978 – before the concept of casual Fridays.)
There are moments in your life when the chills that run down your spine are so acute, you remember them forever and experience them fully every time you think back. And so it was. The look of that room. The sounds. The smells. The way the morning sunlight silhouetted the suited crowd. And the eyes. Oh, the eyes! All turning. All fixing. All rolling at the punk kid who just violated their domain.
So I bolted.
Stalking Tigers Defined
When I entered that room at my first networking event, I was a cub at business who knew nothing about meeting people and building relationships that generate mutual success. Since that time, I’ve spent more than 40 years Stalking Tigers.
But what, exactly, does that mean?
Stalking – The Definition
Cindy, my lovely bride since 1983, created the title “Stalking Tigers.” (She also drew the Tiger illustration on the cover, bless her artistic heart.)
It took me 3.7 seconds to fall in love with the title, because it so perfectly describes the concepts of identifying specific people who have the influence to change your life – “Tigers” – and taking the steps necessary to build relationships with them, so you can receive their assistance – “Stalking.”
But it’s also no secret the word “stalking” carries a massively negative connotation that includes psychotic and criminal behavior – not something I promote, recommend nor intend.
So, for purposes of this conversation, let’s redefine “stalking” this way:
The deliberate pursuit of mutually beneficial relationships with specific people.
Tigers – How To Spot Them
Gary was a maintenance engineer (translation: “janitor”) at a prestigious building in the central business district of St. Louis County in the late 1990s. I had the pleasure of knowing him for a two-minute elevator ride before receiving the unfettered assistance Tigers so readily give cubs who show they care.
I was heading to a sales appointment on the 11th floor and on the verge of being late. I had barely tucked into the elevator behind four other people when a distant squeaking wheel penetrated my self-absorbed thoughts. I stuck my head out the door to find a rather haggard-looking janitor – with mop in bucket – rushing to catch the elevator.
I could feel four darts penetrate the back of my neck as I thrust out my hand to stop the door from closing. I heard the sighs, the tongue clicks and even a muffled grunt from behind as my elevator mates shuffled to make room for the grungy worker and his bucket.
The janitor mumbled, “Thanks,” and pushed the button to the top floor.
Five floors later, he and I were the only people left in the car. And that’s when he did something I had seen only in movies – he pulled the Stop button.
After confidently thanking me again for holding the elevator, holding out his hand and introducing himself, Gary asked me, “Where ya headed?”
“I’ve got a sales appointment with a company on the 11th floor,” I replied.
He asked, “Are you meeting with Robert or Shane?”
“Robert,” I responded, surprised.
Gary smiled and said, “Robert is fair, but tough. He prefers to work with people who can challenge him and who will stand their ground when he pushes back. So give it to him straight, but don’t say anything you can’t back up. Your opinion will be worthless to him if you’re willing to change it in an instant.”
I stood speechless.
Gary turned back toward the panel of buttons and pushed the Stop button back to its normal position. The elevator rose. At the 11th floor, I thanked him, shook his hand, got off and, within the hour, had closed a sale.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: You can’t judge a Tiger by its stripes.
System – In a Jungle Pod
In the books that follow, I’ll lay out a step-by-step process that will start you on a journey of finding the Tigers who can positively influence your business life. I’ll ask you to follow that process as described. Each step is built on the strength of the previous, and positions the next for success.
If anyone understands the emotional draw of modifying systems, it’s me (or as my copyeditor wife would insist I say: “’tis I”). I can’t see a two-step process without wanting to invent two better steps. In fact, I spent 20 years letting that impulse get the better of me – “learning” and then “improving” systems without even trying them, and then, when they failed, telling the creators all the reasons their systems wouldn’t work.
And then one of those creators pushed back. “Gill,” he said, “you don’t have the right to tell me my system doesn’t work until you’ve actually learned it and tried it as designed. All I’ve seen you do so far is prove your modified version doesn’t work. If you’re willing to dial down the arrogance a bit and actually learn something, I can show you how and why what I’ve created works. If not, take your complaints to someone who cares.” (Ya gotta love people who tell it like it is.)
The time will come when I’ll encourage you to change the Stalking Tigers system, because I am 100 percent on board with leveraging your own strengths to improve your results. But let’s use this process to do it:
- Learn the Stalking Tigers system.
- Implement the system as designed, and measure your results.
- Make creative changes as you see fit.
- Implement your modified system, and measure your results.
- Keep the changes that create improvement.
- Return to step 3.
If you’re willing, inject an extra step between 5 and 6 – share your changes and your results (the good and the bad) with me and others as you go.
Big Cats of Business – How To Name Them
Now that’s a subjective term if ever there was one, so let’s define it a bit better.
This is your first Stalking Tigers exercise. There are only four easy-to-understand steps, but they may take a bit of effort to complete.
Step One: Determine Your End-Game Goals
I’m not the first author or expert to tell you that you’ll succeed only if you identify your goals. But so many people never do it. Myriad reasons (excuses?) exist. You must push through them. Figure out your own equation. Identify your goals in as much detail as possible. Consider this: You can’t succeed in a marathon if you have no idea where the finish line is.
What are your end-game goals? What dream are you trying to achieve? What company are you trying to build? How are you trying to change the world? Find answers to your own questions: How many? How much? How soon? Where? With whom? Why?
Step Two: Determine What Assistance You Need
I need a team, from students to janitors to highly successful people in the world of business – all experts in their respective fields – to help me grow the businesses I’m building. While there is some overlap, for each of the three current projects I have underway I need to meet different Tigers with different influential stripes.
What assistance do you need? What can you do for yourself right now? What can’t you do? What groups can help the most – businesspeople? financiers? lawyers? laborers? researchers?
Step Three: Create Thought Boxes to Guide Your Thinking
Now that you have identified your end-game goals and know the assistance you need, it’s time to start finding your Tigers – by thinking inside the box. For example, if I were to ask you to list all the people you know, you would probably feel lost after a short time. If I then asked you to list all the people you know whose names start with “J,” you’d be able to think of more people. By narrowing your focus, more people come to mind.
The same holds true for listing the Tigers you seek. Step Three is a process whereby you narrow your focus and create “thought boxes” – the “compartments” in which you need assistance. Later you’ll think inside each box. Who can help you in that box?
What are your thought boxes? Identify each area in which you need assistance, and define it by the experts/functional groups that can help you in that area.
Step Four: List Your Tigers by Name
The beauty of thought boxes is once you step inside each box, you can begin to generate the names of the Tigers who should be in it with you.
In Step Four, generate your list of Tigers by name. Climb inside each box and do whatever research is necessary to determine the Tigers’ names, mailing addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, passions, causes, hobbies, etc. Assemble a list of at least five Tigers for each box.
Once you’ve completed this exercise, you’ll have an objective description of your “big cats,” a list of Tigers you want to meet. But don’t get in a hurry, you’re not ready for the hunt.
Jungle Laws To Follow
There are laws of the jungle that were written by Tigers – some of whom I know personally; others I admire from afar. To prevent you from being eaten, I’m going to share some of those laws.
The Law of Influence
Within the completely awesome book The Go-Giver, authors Bob Burg and John David Mann tell the story of “Joe” and “The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success.” Law Three – The Law of Influence – applies to our subject: “Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.”
I won’t expound on why I love this book so much or on the many reasons I share the authors’ opinions on the Law of Influence. For those, you’ll need to buy the book and read it for yourself (something I strongly recommend, because the book eloquently describes the giving attitude you must have to make this process work).
What I will do, however, is tell you why The Law of Influence is so important when Stalking Tigers:
- Tigers achieve success and build influence by abundantly placing other people’s interests first.
- If you want to know those Tigers, associate with those Tigers and get the help of those Tigers, you must behave as those Tigers behave, believe as those Tigers believe, act as those Tigers act (especially during the process of Stalking those very Tigers).
To paraphrase The Go-Giver Law of Influence in support of our lesson:
Your success at Stalking Tigers is determined by how abundantly you place Tigers’ interests first.
The Law of Inspiration
Simon Sinek is world-renowned for his ability to inspire people. One of his many profound tenets will help us in our pursuit of Tigers: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
In his Ted Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Sinek outlines the concept of why some great companies and inspirational leaders succeed, while others fail.
In a nutshell, Tigers inspire people by sharing their beliefs – their “whys” – through words and deeds. And people who believe as those Tigers believe follow not for the sake of the Tigers, but for themselves.
So who inspires Tigers? Those who clearly communicate their own beliefs through their own words and their own deeds. To paraphrase Sinek for our next law:
Tigers will invite you in if they believe what you believe.
The Law of Conversations
“The conversation is the relationship,” says Susan Scott in her book Fierce Conversations.
Pause for a moment to think about the meaning of those five words. Relationships deepen as conversations deepen. When those conversations become fierce (meaning intense, not adversarial), imagine what you get – intense relationships.
So here is our next jungle law:
Fierce conversations create relationships with Tigers that care.
The Law of the Gate
Here’s a secret about Tigers: One category of people they respect most in their business lives are the people who guard their gates. Tigers are too busy to handle everything themselves, so they delegate to others – personal assistants, executive-level subordinates, receptionists, spouses, and so forth. The mistake I see cubs so often make is to fail to show these keepers of the gate the respect they’ve been given by the Tigers they serve.
So remember this before you begin your hunt. The moment you disrespect the keeper of the gate is the moment you’ll find yourself clawed to shreds on the jungle floor.
Respect is the key that opens the gatekeeper’s heart.
The Law of the Roar
“I am woman, hear me roar,” sang megastar Helen Reddy. Consider this: Everyone is simultaneously a Tiger and a cub, depending on the venue and situation. For Reddy, women are roaring. In a business situation, often the big cats are the ones roaring. Those are the people the cubs seek for guidance, influence and prestige.
Though you may believe you’re a cub, you are also a Tiger to many: subordinates, peers, the kids you coach, anyone seeking your expertise. So roar like a Tiger. Be confident in your approach in all that you do, but remain humble as you serve the cubs who listen.
If you want the ear of a Tiger, speak with the voice of a Tiger.
The Law of Courage
After my cowardly retreat from my first business-networking event of my life, Dad sat me down to have a talk. He helped me succeed not by pumping me up with platitudes and sending me back into the suit-owned world. He helped me succeed not by asking me to trial-and-error my way through my next attempt. He helped me succeed not by conducting a thorough analysis of what happened and analyzing my results.
Dad helped me succeed by giving instructions I could follow, words I could use, questions I could ask. He gave me insights from his experiences as a 17-year-old starting his own remodeling company 22 years earlier. He gave me love. He gave me the following:
- Don’t be embarrassed by your work clothes. Suits are their work clothes; painters pants are yours. Anyone who sticks up a nose at your work clothes isn’t worth your time.
- Get there 15 minutes late. You want the crowd to already have formed. You want the regular attendees to have had the chance to catch up a bit and to be ready to meet someone new.
- The thing you need to know about important people – the ones you want to know well – is they are always surrounded by a crowd, but they’re also always aware of their surroundings. So while they’re having a conversation with the people near them, they’ll be paying attention to everyone new. The moment you enter the room, begin to survey the crowd. Look for the person who is surrounded by others, or the one looking for you. Once you make eye contact, smile. Keep doing that until one smiles back or acknowledges you in any way.
- Once you’ve acknowledged one another, walk straight through the crowd to him. Do it with confidence. Do it with purpose. Don’t lose eye contact for more than a moment or two at the most.
- When you get to him, hold out your hand, keep eye contact and say, “Hi. I’m Gill Wagner.” Then shut the hell up and wait until the conversation he was having ends and his attention turns to you.
- Trust me when I tell you that no matter who the other guy is, you will have captured his interest and his respect. He will want to know who you are, what you want and why you’re there. Whether you succeed or fail will depend not on what you’ve done to this point, but on what you do next.
- The moment he asks you a question about what you do or why you’re there, tell him the absolute truth: “I’ve been working in construction since I was 12. I graduated high school two weeks ago and started my own remodeling company last week. I’m looking for an attorney, an accountant and a banker, but I want only the very best. This may be the first company I’ve ever started, but it won’t be the last, and I want to work with people I can count on to give me the level of advice I need. If you were in my place, who would you use?”
There are moments in your life when the chills that run down your spine are so acute, you remember them forever and experience them fully every time you think back. There are also moments of personal courage that bring a source of personal pride 40 years later.
And so it was. The look of that room. The sounds. The smells. The way the morning sunlight silhouetted the suited crowd. And the eyes. Oh, the eyes! Two eyes turning. Two eyes fixing. Two eyes smiling and showing me he wanted to help.
This law comes from Dad. He didn’t write it, but my heart knows he could have:
Others can tell you what to do, but you must have the courage to do it.
Jungle Myths To Ignore
Now that you know the laws, let’s look at some limiting beliefs.
The Myth of “Know”
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
“It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.”
These two isms have been bantered about for decades – possibly centuries. And I admit it sounds like there’s some truth to each. We all know someone who just started out in business and, through a key connection, instantly rocketed to success. Right?
Wrong. That’s simply jealousy swinging low on the vine, so let’s put that green monster back up in the tree one piece at a time.
Myth: “It’s not what you know …”
Of course it’s what you know. I promise if I applied for a position as a research scientist, my resume would be pinned to every social media wall with the caption: “What was he thinking?”
Me – a research scientist? I’m lucky I can spell it – a “B” student in high school, not a day of college, construction stiff who said, “them stairs,” until he married an English major who loved him enough to teach him to sound as intelligent as he is.
Apply for a position as a research scientist? I’d be laughing at me too. But although I may not be good at research or science, I’m an expert in other things – like sales.
Yes, it’s an extreme example. But it makes my point – of course what you know counts.
What you know is the most critical starting point to generating success. What you know gets you off the bench and onto the playing field. What you know turns you from suspicious to credible. What you know arms you for success.
What you know catches the eye of the Tiger.
Myth: “… it’s who you know.”
If I add up all of my social media contacts, the people with whom I’ve served over the years in the six companies I built, the folks I’ve helped through the two associations I founded, and my friends, family and neighbors, I probably know 15,000 people by first name, and many of them are Tigers.
But just knowing them gets me nowhere – it’s not like they’re all sitting around at this moment thinking: “I wonder how I could help Gill today.”
I may know 15,000 people, but they’re all more concerned with their own lives than they are with mine (as they should be). Which is why people say:
Myth: “… it’s who knows you.”
I live in St. Louis, Mo., U.S.A. Enterprise Rent-A-Car is a major corporation headquartered here, with Andy Taylor at the wheel as CEO. Whenever I’m discussing the subject of big cats in business, I often use Andy as my real-world example. And he’s a perfect example for this next point.
Andy knows me. But the fact is, I doubt he remembers he knows me.
We all know many people. We all have many people who know us. But if you believe it’s who you know or who knows you that counts, you’ll spend a lifetime waiting for the help you need.
What you know gets you to the edge of the jungle. Whom you know and who knows you are mere openings into the bush. The true key to navigating the jungle with the help of Tigers is this:
“It’s the combination of what you know and who cares that counts.”
The Myth of “No”
“I left 10 voicemails, and she still won’t meet with me.”
“His gatekeeper told me to stop calling.”
“I can’t find her email.”
“She isn’t on any social media.”
“I tried snail mail, but it didn’t work.”
“Nobody I know is connected or willing to connect me.”
“Obviously he doesn’t want to be bothered.”
“She set up these roadblocks to keep me away.”
“I was told ‘No.’”
Ah, yes. The whine of the quitter and the myth of “No.”
Think about this from the Tiger’s perspective. She has invested years of her life and a pile of cash to get her college education, break into her industry, work her way through the corporate jungle and finally reach the top.
Everyone wants to know her. But stop for a moment and think … whom does she want to know?
Other Tigers, of course!
But here’s the interesting twist: Tigers want to know not only other Tigers who have established their territory in the jungle. They want to know the cubs who are on their way in. In fact, when big-hearted Tigers meet those cubs, most can’t resist the allure of helping the cubs along.
But how do Tigers identify cubs without wasting their time on hyenas in striped suits?
They throw in obstacles only a Tiger can survive: gatekeepers, mail sorters, outsourced social media handlers, security at the front door. But these obstacles are not “No.” They are simply the quicksand that aspiring Tigers must circumvent to get in.
Respect the keepers of the gate and you’ll earn their respect. But if you quit trying, they’ll forget your name.
The Myth of the “Grind”
“Good things come to those who wait.”
“Success happens one step at a time.”
“Success happens when you plan for it.”
“Success comes to those who work hard.”
Are ya feelin’ inspired? I know I’m roaring to press my shoulder to the grindstone for the next 20 years. (Ugh!)
Why on earth would anyone want to accomplish something slowly, when fast is just as easy to achieve, much more lucrative and massively more fun?
In his book The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss discusses deadlines – and the shorter, the better. He tells the story of his failing to conduct a few key interviews for a paper he was writing in college. The day before the paper was due, he asked his professor for an extension. The response he got was: “I think you’ll be OK. Entrepreneurs are those who make things happen, right?”
Twenty-four hours later, Ferriss handed in a 30-page paper and got an “A.”
If necessity is the mother of invention, then a deadline is the daddy of speed.
The Myth of the “Lucky Break”
On the surface, my interaction with janitor Gary and the instantaneous assistance he provided seem like a chance encounter and a massive stroke of luck, respectively. After all, how many janitors are so tuned in to the people they serve? How many people would care enough to help a stranger? And what are the odds of the stranger not only holding an elevator door for but ending up alone with the janitor a few floors later?
Beneath the surface, however, lies the truth about lucky breaks.
I’ve been holding doors open for people since I was big enough to have the ability. Mom taught me to “be a gentleman,” and I knew better than to disrespect Mom.
With no way to know how many doors I’ve held open, I’d hazard a guess that it’s in the thousands. Yet Gary is the only success story I can relate to literally opening a door.
But what about the metaphoric doors I’ve opened based on the same lesson from Mom?
What about the two to 10 connections a week I’ve been making for entrepreneurs and salespeople for the past 20 years? What about the prospects I’ve introduced to my competitors once I learned that what I was selling wasn’t the perfect fit? What about the five “Be Useful” meetings – where I find ways to be useful, but no one writes a check – I offer struggling salespeople and business owners week after week, month after month and year after year?
Luck comes to those who put energy into opening their hearts to others. What are you giving to the world that will generate the “lucky break” you need?
Of all the things Dad taught me, I think the most universally useful lesson was that it’s easier to row downstream than it is to row up. “Everything in life has a natural flow,” Dad said. “So to get something done, you must look for the flow, and match it as best you can.”
To enjoy the float and survive the rapids, there are a few things you should know about me, about Tigers and about the journey ahead.
Stop and think for a moment about what you’re trying to accomplish. You have a glorious idea for a business, a charity, a career … a life. You’ve dedicated yourself to your passion and have acquired the knowledge and skill you need to succeed.
You have the strength to achieve your dream alone and are willing to suffer through that sole safari if needed. But something in your gut tells you that the right person at the right time making the right connection for the right reason would be the miracle that changes your life.
Honesty is the natural flow to creating that miracle.
Allow me to demonstrate what I mean.
Stalking Tigers is a system for producing business relationships with people who have the power to change your life – Tigers – then nurturing those relationships until the Tigers care enough to instigate the miracles you need.
Bill Prenatt, owner of Simply Successful, and I created this system in 2010 by reverse-engineering the relationships we’ve accidentally built with Tigers over the years, and figuring out how to replicate those accidents on purpose.
From my first client at age 18 to my last (whenever that may be), I have been and pledge to be honest. It’s my creed. My battle cry. My north star. The thing for which I’ll die on the hill. So, the last thing I want with you, my reader, is a relationship based on a misconception.
Prior to writing this book, I’ve taught the Stalking Tigers process exactly once to three people. All three are just starting their journeys, so I don’t have a single Stalking Tigers success story other than my own to share.
If you feel that makes me less capable of helping you Stalk Tigers, and believe it’s enough reason to not buy into this process, I respect your decision and thank you for your time.
If, on the other hand, you feel you’d rather work with someone who is straight with you, then I’m thrilled to help you on your hunt. We will absolutely stumble a time or two on this journey, but if we don’t give up we’ll get there in the end.
Honesty is the natural flow to relationships built on mutual trust and respect, and those are the only relationships that change lives for the better. Those are also the only relationships I value and the only relationships I want.
Success comes to those who are listening when opportunities come calling – but not always for them. Gary provided the insights I needed not because I was listening for my own opportunities. He provided those insights because I was listening for opportunities to help others.
And empathy is the key.
One definition of empathy is: the capacity to recognize the emotions being experienced by another. I heard a wheel squeak, recognized a man in a hurry and held a door.
Keep your ears tuned to the jungle. The opportunity to help is everywhere. And giving help is the price of the safari.
I’ve read probably a dozen versions of what I’m about to tell you but have never researched the actual number in the claim. I didn’t do the research for three reasons. First, the number feels about right. Second, I trusted the people who said it. And third, it’s the concept that matters, not the exact number.
Out of the entire volume of people you know, there are probably only 250 people with whom you can maintain something more than a casual relationship.
Stalking Tigers is about building that list of 250 on purpose, rather than by accident, and doing it for specific reasons, rather than letting karma decide the outcome. To achieve your end-game goals, you must have the heart of a Tiger when it comes to caring for others. That means always doing what’s best for the other guy, giving without keeping score and helping whenever you can. But in some respects, you must also think like a heartless beast.
Imagine if you will that you have 250 relationships with absolutely incredible people, and that that number is your true upper limit – you can’t add a single person to the list without a system-wide collapse.
Now imagine meeting the Tiger of your dreams.
Whom do you kick off your list?
Thinking strategically about relationships can be seen as heartless, and some people resist doing so because of how it makes them feel.
If it helps, think about it this way: You have a dream. You have your own north star. You have your list of strongly held beliefs. You have your own core values.
If you achieve your dream, I assume you will be in a position to positively change the lives of others – to “change the world,” as it were. The bigger the Tigers in your 250-person list, the more likely and more quickly you’ll be able to achieve your dream and change the world for those you serve.
Who wouldn’t want to do that on purpose?