Many of you may find yourselves being the “go-to-guy” that others rely on — find out whether this is good or bad, and how it impacts your climb to the top.

As trite as it may sound, the first thing to acknowledge is that any picture is a puzzle composed of various smaller pieces. This said, some pieces may represent some flashier bits of the puzzle, but without the more subtle pieces, the puzzle is in fact worth far less than a thousand words, proverbially speaking of course.

So often in sports, teams end up a few inches short of the finish line because they lack that one player who can either one-time the puck past the goalie, slam dunk that alley-oop into the net, or catch that strike from the quarterback. These teams realize that a piece of the puzzle is missing, and while the puzzle may look rather good, it is incomplete.

Another piece of the puzzle?

The aforementioned examples describe a typical go-to guy. Usually in such contexts, the go-to guy is the closer, the one who finishes the setup from teammates and nips things in the bud. It is for this reason that such players are deemed priceless.

Teams often pay big bucks for such high-profile players, while these teams continue to lack brilliance — the Rangers of the NHL being one recent example. The point of this prelude is to prove that in business, as well as sports, “flash” means little whereas substance leads you to the ultimate prize: a championship or market leadership.

It’s a team effort

A popular theory that often comes to mind is Gestalt psychology, based on the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (Gestalt is German for “form” or “shape”). And this is very much true in business and in sports. You can have a flashy individual, but a team of individuals with substance will destroy a group of flashy individuals. So imagine uniting a group composed of substance and style, willing to take on the world.

Setting up and closing

The main difference between the sports and business analogy is that in business, the go-to guy is sometimes the closer, but most times, he may find himself acting as the setup guy. It is this versatility that really makes a go-to guy valuable. In business, depending on the situation, even the bossiest of people have to defer to others when it comes to a business close.

The reason is very simple: everyone must play a game and a role. And sometimes, even the most driven of CEOs play good cop/bad cop with their shareholders or board in order to close a deal. This is what makes good businessmen great and differentiates wannabes from leaders.

What’s good about being the go-to guy?

The good

In business and in sports, teamwork and the ability to make others better employees, partners, bosses, and subordinates is a very underrated trait. If you are always the one that has to supervise this, close that and manage the other, you may be seen as a valuable asset in the short-term, but in the long-term you create a liability as you will have to micro manage everything.


What does this have to do with being a go-to guy? Simple; a go-to guy knows that his main quality is his versatility and his ability to be a jack-of-all-trades. He can step into any situation, assess what is going on, study the characters (yes, in the Kramer sense of the word) and determine where he will be most optimized. And he’ll quickly see that in some situations, he will be the closing guy, while in others he will be the guy that breaks down walls and opens up opportunities for colleagues.

It is easy to be vain and wish to hog the crowd, but this does no good. Others will be weak when you are not around because they may fear taking risks. And without risks you cannot get results. How great would a ruler be if in his absence, his followers sit and watch the empire fall? Would he not have been a greater ruler if his lieutenants and subjects took charge? Of course he would.

I quote Jack Welch often. Few people discuss his faults (there is a reason for this; he had few). Perhaps his greatest quality was that he managed people and let others manage their people. This way, everyone from his lieutenants to their lieutenants became a leader with time.

Confidence and trust

Obviously, a benefit of all of this is that people appreciate your presence as they see that you can create value. They would also be prone to entrusting you with greater responsibilities. The best part is that some very experienced and powerful people suddenly want your opinion. They may know that they are rulers of their own corporate battleground, but they also realize that you have something to offer.

Discover talents

Internally, you may realize that you have some undiscovered talents that you were never aware of. A friend of mine is rather gifted at what he does. Individually, he can deliver what armies of men try to deliver. How did he develop this ability? Perhaps because no one around him tried. In other words, this person only realized that he was gifted at this because he tried to do it. Only when your back is up against the wall do you realize that you can move mountains.

Hone unpolished skills

A very long time ago, a female colleague was convinced that I was after her job. One day, I invited her for drinks as I sensed some tension. After one too many drinks, she asked me outright whether I was out to get her. Having had a couple of drinks myself, I asked whether she meant this on a professional level or in a more interesting context.

I immediately assured her that I was not interested whatsoever in her job specifically because I had already done it. Why on earth would I wish to repeat this task? I was interested in sharpening other skills. After all, you can only be a go-to guy if you are flexible and versatile. Most people are not born versatile, they become versatile because they are quick learners who are willing to test and try new things. I could see her lightbulb turn on and her buzz wear off. That moment was priceless. Well, she need not have lost her buzz…

And the bad?

The bad

Taken for granted

Obviously, things are not always rosy. The fact of the matter is that by offering more, you become somewhat taken for granted for two main reasons.

1- Gestalt psychology
If a firm must hire 2 people to do your range of tasks, I doubt that they will pay you twice your salary, right? So in effect, you are providing services that may be worth X but are being compensated for 50% of X.

2- Managing expectations
If someone asks you for something on Monday, and you tell them that they’ll have it by next week, give it to them on Friday and you are a God in their eyes. However, tell them that you will try to have it for them by the end of the day and hand it over the next day, and you have let them down.

I am the kind of person that gets things done (usually well too, except when I really have no clue what I am doing, which is more frequently than one would think) by Monday, lunchtime. This way, the task is out of my way and my employers are impressed; everyone is happy. However, while they may be grateful, the value they would have placed on the task is minimized as I have made it seem simple.

This is rather trivial. However, you should be concerned with doing a great job in a fairly quick time instead of wasting time for the sake of beating expectations. I am not saying that my way is correct; I am merely saying that this works for me.

Giving too much

Another negative aspect is that once something is out of the bag, it is out for good. If you give something away for free, how can you suddenly start charging for it? By the way, this is what so many Internet companies are facing today. The same can be said about offering too much. Once your employers and colleagues see that you can work like a bull on steroids, they will feel shortchanged when you suddenly take things easy.

The ultimate question is simple: are you the kind of person that does things for vanity and material gain, or are you interested in the intangible things in life?

Value & price, not the same thing

We spoke of value before. Surely your colleagues value you, but if you are a material person, then you should always give less than you get, this way you will sleep well at night and not feel that you are being taken advantage of.

However, if you’re neither materialistic nor vain, then you should always deliver more than what others expect. This may not be wise financially, but when you are a young professional, money should not be the yardstick used to measure success. What are some good yardsticks? Another day, another article.

Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at