Tall poppy syndrome – The curse of the insecure

I was prompted to blog by a comment made during a podcast episode I listened to recently. On the Tim Ferris show, Phil Keoghan – The Magic of Bucket Lists and Amazing Races was interviewed. Phil is the host of the Amazing Race and originates from New Zealand.

Amongst topics discussed, Phil mentions the phrase Tall Poppy Syndrome in relation to the mindset of a lot of people from New Zealand. The term relates to maintaining conformity and not standing out from the crowd, such as in a field of poppies with one taller than the others. To keep things equal, the taller poppy will be cut down to size.

Phil uses the example of the NZ All Blacks, the champion national Rugby Union team. The All Blacks are arguably the highest achieving team ever in world Rugby Union, however, in line with the NZ mentality, they will understate their greatness.

This reminded me of Greg Norman’s win at the 1993 British Open with a final round of 64. Following the round, Norman quipped that “I’m in awe of myself” as he didn’t miss hit a shot. I recall that this comment was discussed in Australia almost more than his win. It was considered discourteous to the other players and arrogant. I could argue though that he was actually understating his normal ability and he just had a great day.

In Australia, anyone who has achieved celebrity through their success is in constant danger of being cut down at the slightest perceived indiscretion. Any comment is taken out of context, their personal life is massively scrutinised, they are lambasted for not contributing their great wealth to charity….the list goes on.

Paul Hogan was considered a national treasure until he achieved worldwide fame with Crocodile Dundee. Initially, he was the still the regular Aussie bloke that made good. But then, his relationship to his co-star was made public. He was then a cheater that let a bit of fame make him forget family values. He wasn’t quite disowned but his public image was massively diminished.

Why can’t we celebrate the success of others instead of trying to bring them down to our level? Instead of looking for fault, why aren’t we looking to learn from them instead? Is their public life really any of our business? Being a tall poppy in Australia is a terrible burden. Be a nobody and fail miserably and constantly and no one cares.

However, it seems that in the US, being a tall poppy is something to be proud of. Sure, the failures of the high-flyers make the press, such as Tiger Wood’s infidelity and Donald Trump’s misguided comments. But it seems that this is more of identifying that everyone can make mistakes rather than wanting them to fail (though maybe with Trump I could be wrong). I doubt I would be wrong in saying that the US would love it if Tiger was the best again.

Maybe Australia could learn some lessons from the pride that American’s have in themselves and country. Pride is considered a character fault in Australia. Why should it be though? Australia is a great place to live, with an envious quality of living but we are happy to hide in the shadows.

To steal a quote from the movie Troy when a messenger boy comments to Achilles, ‘The Thesselonian you’re fighting…he’s the biggest man I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t want to fight him’. Achilles responds ‘That’s why no-one will remember your name’. Come on Australia, strive for greatness and be a tall poppy! If you are too insecure to admire the success of others, keep your undermining comments to yourself and live in obscurity. No one will remember you anyway.

Buying property – Lazy agents

As I posted a few weeks ago with Buying property – Thank you messy tenants! I have been on the look-out for an investment property.

After some research, I decided on an area that provides a generous rental income and has plenty of room for capital growth. It was then down to finding a suitable property.

In this day and age, particularly at the lower cost end, the primary avenue for locating property is on the internet. After entering the parameters I required, I generated about half a dozen quite promising properties and set about making a time to see them.

What I found interesting was that some real estate agents today are so lazy in advertising the properties. Their written profile of the property can be down right pathetic. They make very little effort to sell the benefits of the property and location. The basics are not enough, the agent should be selling the dream of owning the property, whether it be for investment or to live in.

Property photos can also be appalling. Only 18 months ago, I was in a position of locating an agent to sell my home in Sydney. One agent had a high-profile in the area and she impressed me with her pitch but the photos she used were obviously taken from her mobile phone. I enlisted her services on the proviso that a professional photographer was used. I had to pay the $500 for the photos and it was very well spent. The traffic through the first open home was fantastic, which created urgency and resulted in a very impressive offer the same day.

From a purchasing point of view, I use agents poor ads as an opportunity for me to save money. An unattractive ad in terms of wording and photos can result in less buyers to opens and therefore more chance for me to negotiate down.

The day came to view some properties. Two identical properties were open and hour apart in the same complex. One agent had listed very nice pictures and had sold the property strongly in the word content. The other property had dark grainy pictures that made the place looked very tired and the wording in the ad was generic. You can imagine that I was more interested in seeing the property with the nice pictures and descriptive wording.

Well, I was disappointed. The first property was quite run down and needed some cosmetic work. In saying that, I still thought it represented pretty good value if I could negotiate it down around $10K. The point is though that I did attend the property and I may have had the property had a less appealing ad.

An hour later, I attended the second property with less enthusiasm. It was great! The existing tenant was obviously very house proud and the presentation was perfect. She even had subtle incense burning that provided a pleasant fragrance to the home.

Other than possibly adding some paint, there was basically nothing to do. Another interesting aspect was that the agent had not even used current photos. New blinds had been installed in several rooms to replace some very dated curtains. A small thing perhaps but an ad is a first impression and should feature the benefits of the property in its best light.

When it came to price, the agent suggested a price that was in the range of $20K less than equivalent (but less impressive) property that I had seen an hour early. I countered with a number expecting some effort to negotiate. I was called back less than an hour later to advise that the offer had been accepted. Not the slightest effort to press me for even a few thousand. The thing is, I was more than prepared to offer more!

From my perspective as a buyer, the agent was great. He posted poor ads with uninspired wording and out-of-date photos and he failed to negotiate. If I was the vendor though, I would feel that I lost out on money and was paying a commission for nothing. They should actually be paying the tenant as they had really presented the property to sell.

Once the property sale settles, the agent will obtain his commission from the vendor. I might even use him again if I am looking for somewhere to buy in the area. But would I use him to sell for me? No chance!

Unpleasant financial surprises

For over a year, I have been waiting on a procedure to remove significant trunk varicose veins from my right leg. I’m generally not that vain (excuse the pun) but I found the veins so disgusting to look at that I wouldn’t wear shorts.

Given that I now live in a location where it is warm almost year around, having to wear long pants continuously outside the house is not particularly practical and is often unpleasant. Anyway, a year ago I committed to a procedure to have the veins rectified.

I had to wait a year as I had joined a health fund and as the veins were a pre-existing issue, I had to wait 12 months before I could claim costs. I was aware that even though I had the health care fund, I was still be obligated to $500.00 for my hospital stay. I thought that, in addition to the health fund costs for the year was more than reasonable to have my veins repaired.

Imagine my surprise when I week prior to the operation, I receive a letter from my vascular surgeon informing me that I would have to pay an additional $1500.00 excess prior to the operation.

Mentally, I was fully committed to the operation and had already organised leave from work to recover from the operation. I thought lumping me with a $1500 bill only days before the operation was quite unreasonable but I went ahead and paid it rather than put off my operation further.

Surprise again though the very next day when I receive an email from an anesthesiologist advising I would have to pay an excess of $900 prior to the operation. Again, as I was all but packing my overnight bag, I paid the bill without complaint though the cost of the procedure was really starting to add up and started to wonder who else might put a hand out for money.

Later that day, I was riding my motorbike to work while contemplating how the unexpected operation costs would affect my savings strategy. Well, the 3rd surprise of the week occurred when the bike all of a sudden just stopped. By good fortune (the only good fortune of the week), I broke down within rolling distance of a motorcycle mechanic.

$300 later, the problem was found to be a relatively easy electrical fix but still took a long time to investigate and therefore was quite costly. Add that to über costs to get me to and from work and I was out another $100.00.

Ok, so I took a few steps back towards my early retirement plan last week. I could sit down and sulk or just keep moving forward, which I will.

On a positive note, the operation was a success. The hospital stay was pleasant and the nurses were lovely. Even the breakfast was yummy and I was discharged very quickly.

When fully healed, I will post some photos of varicose vein operation outcome.

‘When the learning curve expires’

I was listening to the latest podcast from How I Built This How I Built ThisWeWork: Miguel McKelvey

In this episode, Guy interviews Miguel McKelvey, one of the founders of WeWork, a company that provides shared workspaces for freelancers and startups.

Miguel was discussing a previous job he held with an architectural firm. When asked what prompted him to leave his response included ‘when the learning curve expires’. The phrase stayed with me. It perfectly describes my career for the last decade. When I achieve a point when I can no longer learn or make improvements to the role, I move on.

This was not always the case. From the age of 25, I spent the next 17 years within varying but very similar roles within government. The only real difference in the roles was the level of responsibility and staff managed. Occasional adjustments were required over the years with new managers and legislative changes but realistically, I consider my ‘learning curve’ expired in the first 5 years of employment.

At that time though, I lacked the drive and confidence in my ability to move on to new things. I walked through each day in a cruise and spent more time developing social networks than anything else. I was stale but it was only through hindsight that I realised this.

I’ve worked with countless people who have reached their own ‘learning curve’ expiration but have failed to progress further. In fact, I find that many people actually go backwards in their skill levels. I equate this to exercising at the same level day after day, year after year. The body adapts and rather than improve, it starts to decline. You have to keep progressing to make change.

The point I take from Miguel’s comment is that when you have reached your maximum capacity in a role and the role is no longer challenging, it is time to change. This may mean a career change, finding ways to improve the functionality of the role or seeking learning opportunities to increase your potential for advancement.

Whatever you do, don’t stagnate. This is where you become less capable to adapt to change and limit your options.

Do what you love. Not always a good thing.

One of the constants in my adult life has been going to the gym. At a minimum I attend the gym 4 days a week and have done so for 30+ years. It has become such an important part of my life that when I move house, I make sure I buy near a gym. I love how I feel after a workout, I love the noise of clanking weights, I love the feel of iron in my hands, I love challenging my body, I even love the smell of the gym. I just love going to the gym.

In my early 40’s, I was having a bit of a career crisis. I was really going through tIMG_3741he motions in my job. The only job satisfaction I had was when my pay went into my account. I needed a change.

I came across an advertisement promoting a fitness trainer course. I could undertake the course after my day job and after 6 months I could be a certified Fitness Trainer. I loved going to gym, so surely this would be the perfect career fit for me.

I signed up and started the course with nervous excitement. I loved it. I learned a lot of the more technical aspects of fitness training and physiology in addition to improving my repartre of workout methods. I was also surrounded with like-minded fit and healthy people.

One completion of the course, I very quickly secured a job as a Personal Trainer with a private studio. This was the dream! I would have one-on-one sessions with clients and be involved in changing their bodies and lives.

Though I continued to maintain my full-time work, I was able to train clients before and after work. The studio would allocate me clients, so I immediately had a client base to work with. I utilised my free time to create individualised training programs to meet the goals of my clients. I would also find time to fit in my own workouts along the way. I was busy but having fun!

Move forward 6 months. I was getting up at 4:30AM, train clients, go to my day job, do my own workout at lunch, then go to the studio after work to train clients until 8:30PM. I normally a client or two on Saturday and then had Sunday off. I was tired.

Being tired wasn’t the problem though. The problem was that my clients didn’t love the gym as much as me. Gym was my passion. To them, going to the gym was a chore and only undertaken only because they had to. I would approach each client with enthusiasm and put in all my energy to construct interesting and intense sessions. I would train my clients hard but I was seeing no results.

It became clear that my clients were not training with the same intensity outside of our session…or not training at all. One client attended an afternoon session stinking of alcohol. It seemed every day I would hear more excuses about why they hadn’t been training or couldn’t attend a scheduled session.

As my clients were not demonstrating their commitment to the gym with the same passion as me, I lost the passion to help them. My sessions became little more then recycled, generic workouts. The majority of my clients just wanted to talk, so that’s what I did. If they started to sweat, it was due to the temperature, not the workout.

I stuck with the job for 2 years with the hope that I could somehow develop a reputation as a specialised trainer that could afford to pick and choose their clients. This would never happen though as I was barely making an effort to be a great trainer. As with my day job, I was going through the motions. Though the extra income was great, I decided to leave the job before I lost my own passion for my own training.

Though I posted Saving dollars & cents – Do what you love and..hopefully..money will follow, I don’t necessarily consider that doing what you love is a good thing. If the customer doesn’t share your passion, it can reduce your enthusiasm and it can just become a job.

Do work that is important to you and provides value. If you are emotionally attached to the work though, you risk losing your own love for what you do. Maybe some personal passions should stay that way.

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.