If you don’t have the right skills, have the right attitude

‘Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference’

Winston Churchill

I’ve never started a job with the skill level to hit the ground running. My education level is moderate at best and I haven’t any specialised qualifications. Therefore, I generally start a new role with minimal real ability to perform the duties.

What I do have however, is the right attitude. I start every new role with enthusiasm and with a learning mindset. In some ways, my lack of knowledge is an advantage as I don’t go in with a ‘know it all’ attitude. I don’t know what I’m doing and any opportunity is a chance to learn.

My current role serves as an example. If someone asked me to deal with an aggravated customer, I get onto it immediately without complaint. If I’m asked to clean up vomit or a particularly nasty toilet incident, I go and do it immediately. If I’m stuck with a full shift or just standing at the top of a broken escalator to perform customer service, I’m there.

These examples are not especially complex but they are not everyone’s idea of a good time. The point is, I do them and take the opportunity to learn. I might learn some strategies to manage the aggravated customer to use the next time. I get to use my communication skills with the broken escalator. I might not learn a lot while cleaning up a messy toilet but it is a mindless task that allows me to reflect on ways to make money or for other productive thought.

I have applied the positive attitude to every role I have held for the last decade. This attitude has given me the reputation as someone that is reliable and can be counted on to assist when needed. This has resulted in many opportunities being offered to me that were definitely beyond my education level and skill. Many times, these offers have been made ahead of people with considerably more experience in the role then I had.

It surprises me that I see many long-term and new starters that are reluctant to undertake tasks and make excuses. I get it, no one wants to clean up a blocked toilet. It is smelly and unpleasant. I won’t lie, there have been times I have been dry retching while cleaning up.

You know what though, when it’s time to offer an extra shift, overtime or a spell at a higher role, they will be asking the guy with the right attitude, not the guy that complains every time they are asked to do something.

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A boss rules. A leader inspires!

 

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

John Quincy Adams

Possibly due to the excessive amount of jobs I have held, I have had more than my share of managers during my career. A fair guess would be 30. Of those 30, I would suggest that maybe only 3 of them were true leaders.

To me, a leader is someone who motivates you to work hard, encourages you to succeed and supports you to make your own decisions.

Probably the most inspiring leader I have had was only recently. This man stood apart almost immediately from all my previous bosses as a leader to follow.
As this man is so humble and some of my comments are relatively personal, I will protect his anonymity and call him Jim.
I had been working for this particular company for around 6 months. I enjoyed the role I had but found the culture depressing. The nature of my work revolved around death but that wasn’t the aspect that made the environment so unpleasant. Many of the staff had ‘existed’ in the business for far too long and were set in their ways. Processes were complicated and convoluted but any suggestion of innovation was quashed immediately. I will call these people ‘Stalwarts’ for the purpose of this post.
Due to the fact that so many of the stalwarts were never going to move, the only opportunity for progression was through their retirement or death. Neither of those options seemed remotely possible in the near future, so it was a trying place to work.
Then along came Jim. For the first two weeks, Jim scheduled appointments with every staff member to discuss their roles. He wanted to know if they enjoyed their work, what issues they had, what they wanted to learn and what they wanted to do. As Jim was new to all of us, I bet I wasn’t the only one that held back a bit as I didn’t want to say something that would later bite me in the butt. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried, he was just demonstrating open communication and a willingness to know each team member.

Jim then ruffled feathers by asking everyone in the business to provide process flows for each of their work actions. As part of this, he asked that everyone highlight areas where there were bottlenecks in a process and provide suggestions how to improve.
The stalwarts were outraged! ‘He doesn’t know the business!!’ was the common cry. That was exactly the point but they didn’t get it. He was a pair of fresh eyes that weren’t jaded by years of doing things the way they were always done. He was looking for people to look outside the box and innovate.
This didn’t sit too well with the stalwarts. They knew what worked and the old saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ seemed good enough for them. Times had changed and better techology existed but they were having none of it. If it worked for the last decade, why bother changing it.
Jim persisted. The response was as expected. The stalwarts submitted their responses that indicated everything was running as good as it possibly could. The newer staff did the same but highlighted many process issues that need rectifying.
Jim was making people think for themselves. He wasn’t dictating how things would change, he was empowering people to come together with their job skills and experience to make a better business.
Jim had an uphill battle for sure. This wasn’t an open-minded group culture. The stalwarts found every reason why something couldn’t work. Jim asked them for ways it could work. Jim’s reasoning was that if he found out how something could work, then he would know if it should work. He wasn’t about change for change sake but he did want to know if there were a better way. Things started slowly to change for the better. Systems improved and output improved. I’m sure the stalwarts wouldn’t admit it but change was good.
Jim also encouraged individual development and progression. He welcomed and almost enforced, rotation through various roles to increase staff understanding of the whole business and to improve their opportunity for career progression. As you could imagine, this came with some pushback from the stalwarts, who were stuck in their ways and their jobs.
Jim persisted though. Bit by bit, he continued to change the culture of the business. He fully understood that their were some people who wouldn’t change but he would improve the business for those that were ready for the ride. The place was becoming a better environment to work. I had rotated into a role I didn’t really enjoy but it didn’t matter that much as I was working in a more open and enjoyable work environment.

Jim was the epitome of leading by example. Almost without fail, Jim was there when I arrived at work and when I left for the day. This is despite the numerous difficulties that Jim was experiencing in his life.

  • Jim only had one leg though I didn’t know for several months as he got around so quickly on his prosthetic leg.
  • Jim had cancer. He was undertaking treatment for it and often times was grey and clammy. Yet, he only occasionally took a day off or left early for the day.
  • His father died. Obviously, Jim took a few days off for this but worked on.
  • And lastly, his mother developed Alzheimer’s and had to be moved to a home.

Only the first point didn’t happen in the 6 months I worked with him. He was going through very trying times. But Jim didn’t whine and complain. I only knew about his problems through someone close to him. Jim was not going to use his own problems as an excuse for not doing his job. It certainly made me reconsider having a sickie when I would wake up with a tickle in my throat. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate his work ethic, particularly while ill but it certainly was inspiring.

Probably the most impressive part of Jim’s leadership was his encouragement of people to progress. I have worked for so many managers that subtlety (and not so subtle sometimes) undermined my achievements and bruised my confidence. I think in part this was to confirm their status as the boss but also as a means to retain staff.

Jim was the opposite, he praised every achievement across the business….but only with permission. He made people feel important and an asset to the business. As I said earlier, he rotated people to increase their confidence that they had the capacity to learn and adapt. He was building our confidence to succeed and did his best to support people, even if this meant he may lose staff.

I started to apply for a number of jobs outside the company. Not because I was desperate to get out anymore but because I was instilled with confidence in my ability. I secured my current job very quickly. Jim was very supportive and actually provided a verbal reference to the new business that they should employ me.

On my last day, I met with Jim and expressed my admiration for him and that he motivated me to be a better worker and achieve more. Jim’s reaction surprised me. He started to tear up and the tissues came out. It was an awkward moment but I was pleased the same that he understood someone really appreciated him as a leader.

I still see Jim now and again in my current job. He will be on his way to work very early. I have to start early but he wants to. I know he’s in a rush but he always stops and has a quick chat regardless. Did I mention he is a top guy as well?

If I’m lucky, I might have a leader like Jim again. If not, at least I have learnt some lessons on how to support and encourage people that I will use when mentoring new staff.

 

Don’t judge a book by its cover

With the primary focus of my current position being high-volume customer service, I inherently have exposure to people of all walks of life.

As the bulk of my previous customer service experience was on the phone, the face to face contact associated with my current role was a new experience.

Admittedly, when I first started in the role, I often times judged a book by its cover. That is, if a person was professionally dressed in a nicely pressed suit, I was likely to treat that customer with more respect and probably, a better quality of service.

On the other hand, if a customer walked up with dishevelled clothing and had scruffy hair and facial hair, I dismissed them immediately and gave curt responses. Hypocritically, outside of work, my general appearance is of someone with barely two cents to rub together. I often use this approach purposely, such as when I’m attending open homes. With the rare exception, I’ve found that real estate agents do not follow-up people who look like a hobo.

With time in the role, my view has changed completely. I have met countless arrogant and abusive customers that are extremely well-presented. At the other end of the spectrum, I have met some of the most delightful people who are legitimately down on their luck.

For example, I had an interaction recently with a young man on a late night shift at the train station. He arrived with dirty clothes and covered with tattoos, including on his face. I struck up a conversation with him as it was quiet time and there were a few minutes before the next train arrived. He surprised me with a softly spoken voice and pleasant demeanour. He explained that he had just finished work labouring and admitted to having limited work options due to his facial tattoos and chequered past.

He went on to say that he had children and was doing his best to provide them with a decent life in the hope they would pursue a better life that he had led to that point. I wished him the best and saw him off on the next train. It was clear this young man was not necessarily a victim of his circumstances but had surely made some poor life choices.

On the other hand, an extremely well-dressed woman arrived on her platform the other day, holding the hand of a young child in a private school uniform. The woman ran up the stairs just as the train departed. This woman launched into a tirade at me for not holding the train for her. Every sentence was punctuated with expletives. I calmly explained that the train had left on schedule and I hadn’t noticed her on the stairs when I sent the train off. Well, I tried to explain anyway, as she cut me off with a ‘Just f**k off!!’ and stormed away. I’m old enough not to be bothered by abuse but I felt for the young child, who looked embarrassed throughout the ‘discussion’.

Probably though, the child will grow up with the same view that treating people with disrespect and aggression is the approach to get things done. I can assure you, I have gone the extra mile for someone who has treated me with respect and is polite. I rarely do so for those that are up in my face demanding action….and probably attention.

Let’s be honest, some people are just horrible, regardless of their appearance. A suit doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will be a total arrogant prick. Neither does being poor make you extra gracious and thankful for help. A deIMG_3727adsh**t is a deadsh**t, however you dress them up.

Basically, my point is that stereotyping people on the appearance is not a good approach. A person should be judged on their actions and behaviour, not because they can’t or can afford to drive a nice car or live in a fancy house. I have lived in rich suburbs and poor suburbs and overall, people are just people. One just has a fatter wallet.

I now approach every customer with the same friendly manner. I thrive on the positive customer experiences and let the negative ones slide off my back. I suggest you do the same.

Lastly, I want to leave you with a video from Australia’s X-Factor. A woman named Dami Im arrived on stage. From the video, it’s clear that the crowd and the judges made the assumption she would be hopeless by the way she looked. Not only did she blow everyone away with her audition, she won the title! I won’t lie, I always get tears watching it.

Motivational and inspirational podcasts

Other than when I’m training in the gym, I have never listened to a lot of music. I don’t hate music but neither do I particularly enjoy it.

If I do turn on the radio, especially during prime time, I seem to be bombarded with pointless drivel from radio jocks. They either seem to be trying desperately hard to be humorous or are overly opinionated on a subject. The subject in the later normally being politics, which is about as interesting to me as…well, nothing is less interesting to me to be honest.

Anyway, going back a good many years, I was excited to purchase a car that had a CD player. This wasn’t exactly new technology but I had only had tape decks in my cars up to that point. Again though, as I’m not a strong music follower, I didn’t get a lot of use from it. But I thought it was cool to have one.

I came home one night from a night of binge drinking and was flicking channels. I came across a Anthony Robbins infomercial. I was home alone, drunk for the umpteenth Friday night in a row and I was feeling sorry for myself. The infomercial sparked me up. Robbins was upbeat, powerful and made promises that his collection of CD’s would change my life. It was relatively pricey but I thought I needed to do something. I called up the number on the screen and thankfully the operator could interpret my drunken ramblings and I ordered the box set of CD’s.

Tony Robbins’ became the only channel on my car radio. For the next year, I played his CD’s repeatedly whenever I was on the road. I can’t say that I was immediately successful, however, my motivation increased enormously and I took some positive steps in my life and career. Some didn’t work out exactly as I would hope but on the whole, I started to move in a better direction.

Move forward a lot of years. CD’s are pretty much a thing of the past. Radio jocks are still just as irritating and pointless. Podcasts have become very popular. To be fair, I’m a little late to the game with podcasts but once I started listening to them, I became hooked. Here was a source of education and information that was free! My favourite price is always free.

As with my Anthony Robbins CD’s, I listen to the podcasts constantly when I’m driving somewhere. Even I’m only in the car for 20 minutes, that is still 20 minutes that I can absorb new information.

I primarily listen to podcasts that motivate me and inspire me. Some of my current favourites are the following:

How I built this

https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/how-i-built-this/id1150510297?mt=2

This podcast provides interviews with successful entrepreneurs that have built success from very little. Very insightful podcast on how successful people think and how they overcome challenges and failures to take their enterprises to the next level.

Million Dollar Agent

https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/million-dollar-agent/id761649354?mt=2

This channel is dedicated to educating real estate agents on how to make them, as the title suggests, million dollar agents. The occasional episode in very specific to the business but the majority provide useful lessons on how to succeed in any work environment. There is a nice interraction between the 3 hosts that makes the information entertaining as well as informative.

The Tim Ferriss Show

https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/the-tim-ferriss-show/id863897795?mt=2

This one can be a bit hit and miss for me. Ferriss does tend to go on excessively at times about his own experiences and his questions can be convoluted. He also can miss the opportunity to follow a particularly interesting point of discussion. However, he does asks questions that can bring forward very in depth responses. Ferriss interviews all manner of successful people, from entrepreneurs, actors and high achievers in sport.

There are many more podcasts out there that provide great information and give you more quality to your downtime. You might find that other podcasts resonate better with you. There are definitely some very successful podcast channels with similar threads as above that just didn’t connect with me but may do for you. Try a few and see.

These ones that I have recommended are ones that work for me. I listen to them at any opportunity before work or gym to lift me up for the challenge of the day ahead.



 

The best career advice I ever received

In 2009, I moved from Canberra (possibly the dullest capital city on earth) to Sydney. Sydney was the polar opposite of Canberra. It has a vibrant, exciting and cosmopolitan culture, with a never-ending amount of sights to see and things to do. I was really excited about starting my new life in Sydney.

I arrived to a new role in recruitment. Within only days, I realised that it was not a job for me, so I started to furiously send out applications for other job opportunities. I applied for jobs where I had experience and could perform confidently.

After a couple of weeks, I secured an interview for a role in payroll. Unlike most interviews I had attended, I found that I was not particularly motivated prior to the meeting and had undertaken almost zero preparation.

The interview got underway and I started to answer the questions but again, I was struggling. I didn’t have that nervous energy that I almost always have in interviews. My answers were satisfactory but flat.

After 20 minutes, it seemed the interviewer was sensing that, while I was responding reasonably well, I just wasn’t into it. He paused, then asked ‘Why did you apply for this role?’. I normally have a formulated response that demonstrates my interest in the role, the opportunities it provides, how it utilises my skills…blah, blah, all that sort of stuff. This time, I hesitated, then blurted out ‘I need a new job and I have experience in payroll work’.

After such a response, I am surprised I wasn’t escorted out the door with a kick up the ass for wasting his time. However, he reflected for a moment and said ‘What sort of work do you want to do?’. I looked back with blank eyes and said ‘I don’t know’. Was that important??

His next comment was simple advice but completely changed the way I have looked at work from then on. ‘Look at your CV and every job you have ever done. Work out what is the one thing about every job that you enjoyed. Find that and follow it.’

I left the interview feeling confused. I had always applied for jobs where I had the experience and capabilities that met the advertised role. I had never applied for a job where the main criteria was, do what you enjoy.

That night, I reviewed my CV, which had developed into the size of a small phone book with the number of jobs I had accumulated. I looked at every job. What did I enjoy about each job. It didn’t actually take long for me to realise that what I enjoyed was providing customer service. Customer service where I genuinely helped people with no benefit to me to be exact.

I started my job search with a new purpose. I sought out jobs where I could help people. Roles were somewhat limited as a lot of customer service roles had a sales component that didn’t appeal to me. However, I did eventually find one role that provided services to people with dust diseases (I will explain this another day). I was excited! This was the feeling I wanted. I researched the role, the company, the relevant diseases and drafted up an application for the role and sent it off to the company.

Shortly after, I was made redundant from my job at the recruitment company. After a couple of hours of feeling miserable as I hadn’t lost a job since I was 15, I felt great! The job was unhealthy for me and I could now focus on looking for a positive job. I had a few thousand dollars saved and could access unemployment benefits, so I calculated I could survive a few months without finding myself out on the street.

I picked up a couple of casual hours of work here and there over the next few weeks until I received a call asking me in for an interview for the dust diseases job. Over the next week, I started furiously studying everything I could and creating hypothetical questions they may ask.

The interview day came. What a difference from the payroll job. I was excited, confident and enthusiastic. I answered each questions with detail and great examples. When they asked me the same question about why I applied for the job, I responded with an answer that was honest. The short message being, I wanted to help people. I walked out confident I had the job. Luckily I didn’t know at the time that 160 people had applied for the job or my confidence may have wavered.

Over the following weeks (and months it turned out), I barely even looked at other jobs. I was so sure I had secured the dust diseases job and just had to wait. I waited so long that my unemployment benefits were going to be withdrawn but I was barely concerned. I would get the job.

And I did. My first pay arrived literally days before I was totally broke.

I loved the job. Every day I coordinated services for people with terminal diseases to provide quality of life up to their death. Depressing for some, rewarding for me. I stayed with the role for 5 years and other than management going in a new direction with the role, I would still be there today.

The pay wasn’t great to be honest but I was doing what I enjoyed. I didn’t struggle to get out of bed to work each day. I worked hard every day but rarely felt drained. I usually left for the day thinking about how many people I could help the next day and how I could do my job better.

That advice I received (from an unlikely source) has led me in the roles I seek out now. Do what you enjoy. Money is necessary but surely being happy about what you are doing is at least as important.


 

 

Have you offered your hand lately?

I made a trip to IKEA today to pick up a new kitchen sink. The new kitchen had been installed 4 months ago but the sink I wanted was out of stock at the time. The waiting time of 4-6 weeks had drifted out somewhat and I have tired of washing dishes in my bathroom basin.

Well, the sink arrived back in stock today, so I went to collect.

IMG_3710

I walked out of IKEA today and had in mind to blog about the genius of the IKEA concept and in-store marketing and how it has influenced the décor of homes today. However, that has already been covered perfectly in Fight Club.

The IKEA closest to me has a separate warehouse for the collection of some of the larger items. You wait at the front of the warehouse and the items are rolled out by staff on a trolley for your collection.

I was waiting for my order when I saw a young lady pushing a trolley out the door with a very large mirror on top. My order came out next, so I pushed my trolley out to the car park. I looked across and saw the young lady attempting unsuccessfully to place her very large mirror inside her small hatchback. Unless she broke the mirror in two, there was no way that it would fit.

I walked over and asked if she wanted me to put her mirror in the back of my ute and drop it to her place. The young lady was very thankful, so I loaded the mirror onto the ute and delivered it to her home.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to bask in the glow of adoration for my good deed today. Quite the opposite. The experience actually made me realise how apathetic to people in obvious need. I was, in fact, hesitant to ask the young lady if she needed help. Partly, because it would inconvenience me and also as my offer of help be taken as a sneaky sexual advance. The later possibly getting a ‘F**k off you old bugger’ directed at me.

I reflected on how many times I have looked the other way when I could have offered a hand to people. There used to be a time when I would pull over to the side of the road and help to push a car that had broken down. Now I just think of how pulling over would cause me to be late for some ‘important’ engagement.

The thought disappointed me. Had I become so self-absorbed that I can’t even make the effort to offer help to a fellow person in need? Am I really that important that the world will come to an end if I’m 5 minutes late to an appointment? Has society changed so much that any offer of help from a male stranger should be viewed with caution? Well, in the case of the last point, as I’m 6’3″, have a shave head and numerous tattoos, maybe erring on the side of caution is understood.

I try to have the point of view that any experience is an opportunity to learn. Today I learned that I could be more caring towards people. Offering a hand, a kind word or even a smile takes little effort but gives back so much.

Don’t stand on the dreams of others. Empower instead!

I was working today and got into conversation with a colleague. For the purposes of this post I will call her Jill. I mentioned to Jill that another colleague (lets say…ummm…John) would be joining the team the following week.

I stated that John would be pursuing an internal qualification to allow him to progress in the business. Jill remarked that she had been in conversation with John during the week and told him that he wouldn’t be eligible to get the qualification as he had only recently joined the organisation and that he wouldn’t be able to progress.

I let the comment slide without responding.

It is worth noting that Jill has been in the organisation for a number of years. During this time, she has not advanced significantly. It is also worth noting that she has developed a reputation for being less than motivated in her work, was unreliable, demonstrated little in the way of initiative and has to be constantly directed to undertake a task. In short, she is lazy!

John on the other hand is a hard worker. He has studied the policy and procedures that apply to his work and applies himself productively and enthusiastically. He will seek opportunities to improve the appearance and safety of the workplace and is active in learning. In short, he is an asset to the business.

By chance, I had the opportunity to talk to John later in my shift. Without mentioning my conversation with Jill, I suggested that she should pursue the qualification in the new team. John brought up that Jill had advised him that he would be unable to obtain the qualification. I advised John that if he wanted to obtain the qualification and progress, that he should do it.

I provided John with the example of a manager at another location who had managed to achieve the qualification and progress within the business within months of commencement through hard work and dedication to their goal.

I have seen examples of ‘Jill’ often during my career. An unsuccessful person that will undermine another persons goals because they have failed with theirs. Almost always, the same people will complain that they have failed due to ‘politics’ in the business. Friends, relatives, gender, race or whatever excuse will come into it. Not once will the person ever reflect on themselves and what failings they may have.

I’m embarrassed to say that I was once one of these people. My lack of success was everyone else’s fault but mine. I was not a particularly hard worker, spending the majority of my time organising my social agenda. Thankfully, with maturity, I have realised that I am the one that controls my success and encourage others to achieve. Certainly, there will be occasion when politics do play a part but on the whole, the people who progress are the ones that deserve it.

I hope that John continues with his strong work ethic and is successful in the business. I also hope he is not drawn down by the negativity of others and finds strength in the success of others.

I hope that Jill realises one day that she is the owner of her own destiny. I also hope that she will not be negative when John bypasses her to progress. But, I kind of doubt it.