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.

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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.

High-volume customer service – The 15 second relationship

The majority of my career has involved some level of customer service. Some has been intensive, long-term case management, where you have the opportunity to develop working relationships with customer over a period of time.

Currently, my customer service exposure is high-volume. A normal shift will involve interactions with 100’s of people. The trick in high-volume is to provide value to the customer, while still being efficient. My view is that each interaction with a customer is a relationship and you have 5-15 seconds to maximise the experience.

Following are some tips that work well for me in terms of customer involvement and the business objective:

Smile – It amazes me how many people in customer service fail to smile. They work efficiently without expression. The service is provided but fails to engage the customer. In high-volume customer service, you only have one chance to make an impression. A smile is so simple and if you really enjoy customer service like I do, it is genuine and comes easy.

Greet the customer – Again, such a simple thing. Just say ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning sir’, ‘Hi’, or even ‘Gidday’. Accompany a greeting with a smile and the customer will usually respond in kind.

Provide value – Even if you are dealing with a large volume of customers, you can still provide additional value. For example, I am often asked for directions for a particular train. I could respond quickly and just say ‘Platform 9’. I have done my job but it takes me possibly 5 seconds more to quickly turn to check the monitors and say ‘Platform 9, Springfield Train in 5 minutes’. Little things make a big difference.

Become knowledgable – In line with the previous point, having knowledge of your business is very important. In my case, what trains are on what line, what stations are on what line, where is the lost property office, where are the toilets, where the taxi rank is; etc. All simple things but important so you can move traffic through quickly while still being informative.

Develop short scripts – I don’t sit down and write out scripts for each situation but I take notice of what responses are effective with customers with respect to being clear, concise and achieve a positive customer response. A quick example would be directions to a platform. Instead of saying ‘Platform 9 up the end’ (which admittedly, I have said), I say ‘Platform 9, 3rd stairs on your left’. The customer walks away confidently instead of looking back at me with blank eyes.

Close the transaction quickly – For a lot of regular commuters, efficiency is key. I still apply the engagement techniques but I retain efficiency. Some customers are oblivious to how busy it is and are inclined to stop in chat. This is fine during quiet periods but not when there are 20 people in a queue. My goal is to engage the customer and move them on in a courteous way. Scripting plays a part here. Using the previous example, I will say ‘Platform 9, 3rd stairs on your left. Thank you, have a good day’. This sums up the interaction in a pleasant way and allows me to divert my attention to the next customer without being rude.

No jokes – Unless I am comfortable with a customer, I don’t consider that jokes, more like clever quips actually, play a part in high-volume customer service. A lot of my colleagues rely on amusing comments. I find these unnecessary and don’t add value to the customer experience. I’m not particularly funny anyway, so I don’t want to force something and be disingenuous.

Don’t do it unless you love it – In terms of work, customer service is my passion. I do it because I genuinely enjoy it. The more customers I can serve and get positive feedback, the better my day is. Sadly, I see many, many colleagues performing the job without passion. They are either transitioning between jobs or stuck in the role so long they no longer enjoy it. My view is, if you no longer enjoy a job, move on. You are doing yourself, the customer and the business a favour.

Look professional and smell nice – This applies to any customer service role. How you present yourself is a reflection of the business. I consider it also a demonstration of your respect for your customer. Make sure your clothes are clean and pressed. Be clean shaven or at least have facial hair neat. Shoes should be clean. Brush teeth/ Wear deodorant! I recall a podcast from How I Built This.  1-800-GOT-JUNK?: Brian Scudmore In this episode, Brian stated that a priority was for his staff to be neatly presented. This is a role where they will be carting away rubbish and will get dirty. Brian still recognised the importance of how the customer perceives someone who looks presentable, versus someone that turns up in dirty overalls and smells like a goat.

These are my thoughts on what works for me with high-volume customer service. In some ways, I’m not the most confident person and understate my ability. Customer service is not something that can be easily measured as but when you’re good at something, you know.

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.

 

Be your own normal

For a large part of my life, I tried desperately to be normal. What I mean is that I tried to conform with what the majority of people were doing.

With age and reflection, my past attempts to try to be normal led me down paths that gave me no happiness and were at times, exhausting and destructive.

It was only when I reached my mid 40’s that I realised that for me to normal I had to  follow my natural instincts and do what feels right for me.

I’ll give you an example. I was always under the belief that being socially active was the normal thing to do. Attending morning teas and parties is what everyone else would do, so I followed suit. However, I found that the only way I could attend a function with a large group of people and feel at all comfortable was to drink alcohol. And not just a beer or two but to binge. This obviously is not the healthiest thing to do but probably worse is that I acted completely different to my own personality. I was loud and out-going, where I am generally reserved and reflective. Strangely enough, the loud and out-going me was quite successful with women but needless to say, when they met the real me, it was awkward and things did not progress.

That is just one example of where I have followed a path in the past to be normal and socially accepted. Others have been:

  • Following a safe and secure career path
  • Buying a particular type of car, or car in general
  • Wearing a particular brand of clothes
  • Not taking risks with career or finances

I’m not sure exactly what the trigger was but one day I started to consider that maybe I should put myself first rather than worry what others thought of me. Maybe it was from a discussion I was having with a friend from a previous job. He is very attracted to men, however, he insisted that he wanted to get married to a woman and have children. When I pressed him a little, he responded that it would make his family happy and it was what they did in his culture.

I didn’t argue the point further but it did seem strange that he was doing something to make other people happy and to meet his cultural standards rather than following what was natural to him. Anyway, it made me consider my choices. Was I basing my choices on what was right for me or just to conform.

I realised then and more so since, there are so many 07403197a4f3c8e09d8d5128febdf78fthings that are normal to others but seem abnormal to me. Some that come to mind:

  • The Kardashian’s. While I love reality TV, I cannot see the universal appeal for this family. To me, this family seems to lead a existence without substance. To me this doesn’t serve as entertainment yet their every movement is of social importance.
  • Going to church or following a religion in general. I won’t get into a theological debate on this one. I’m very spiritual and I’m a strong believer in karma but organised religion and praying to a God does not seem logical to me.
  • Buying a ‘forever’ home. I rarely stay in a home for more then 2-3 years. To wake up in the same room for the rest of my life seems depressing.
  • Having children. I don’t particularly like children and don’t feel compelled to have my name carried on.
  • Working for one company your whole career. I actually admire this but it isn’t for me. To my career advancement detriment, I change jobs frequently.

Please, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with any of the points above. They are simply my opinions and I don’t judge anyone for thinking the opposite. Well, in the case of the Kardashian’s, I pretty much assume you are not right in the head if you like them! What I really mean is, what is right for one person does not mean that it has to be the only way.

Recently, I was in conversation with a colleague at work. He was telling me that on the weekend he had some activities to do with his family. He asked if I was married and had kids and I said no. He asked me then ‘So what do you do then?’. I actually took offence at this comment as I perceived he was judging me and that my life had no value without a wife and kids. This bugged me for a while until it came to me that he didn’t know me, what I had done in my life or what my interests were. His life was not normal for me but I didn’t judge him for choosing it and he shouldn’t have judged me.

To summarise my point in a nutshell, I would say ‘Follow your own path’. Do what feels right for you and makes you happy. I would much prefer to be considered an eccentric that goes by the beat of his own drum than a sheep that follows the herd.

In saying all this, you still have to follow some reasonable societal standards. For instance, regardless if it feels normal or not, you should not purposely break laws just because it feels right. Also, you must be reasonably considerate of others. To swear loudly on a crowded train may feel comfortable for you but would be unpleasant for others and may get you a punch upside the head.

In general though, be your own normal. I definitely feel more calm, content and happy then when I tried to be everyone else.

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.



 

Taking opportunities…and feeling tired

I blogged recently in Obstacles to the dream – Options and opportunities that I had been reassigned to a work location that provided little in the opportunity for shift penalties and weekend work.

In reaction to this, I sought out any chance to work additional hours to make up lost income. An opportunity was posted for staff willing to work the following two Sundays. I responded quickly, and soon received confirmation that I had been allocated the Sunday shifts. Double time work, happy days!

Shortly after this, I was contacted by HR to advise that I could return to regular work locations that provide more penalty shifts and weekend work. Another colleague was keen to work at the Monday to Friday work location, so in exchange, I was provided her shifts.

This was a blessing but also came with strings attached. My colleagues shifts were primarily 1-2AM finishes. Obviously, after getting home, going to bed at 2 to 3 AM is not ideal to get a solid sleep and I end up feeling slightly fatigued most of the time. In itself, this is not a big deal as the shifts usually last a few days and then I get a day or two off to recover.

However, as I had already taken on the Sunday overtime shifts and my colleagues shifts were not aligned to a Monday to Friday week, I find myself working 10 days straight. By this Friday, I will have actually have worked 17 days with only 1 day break. Subsequently, I’m dragging my feet a bit.

I reflected on this a moment though. How many successful people work Monday to Friday and have weekends off? I would be confident in saying it would be close to zero. Successful people are aware that when they aren’t working, some one else will be working and potentially they will be losing business to them.

I thought of the new immigrants to Australia that run small business. I used to frequent a supermarket close to home when I lived in Sydney. The Asian owner was there, 7 days a week for 12 hours per day. Obviously, these hours are not ideal for family time but they pave the way to success.

I considered also the brave men and women that have fought in war. Years can go by where they are involved in active combat. I’m fairly certain that in the World Wars, there was no cease fire called on weekends. They essentially worked 7 days a week and often 24 hours a day, primarily for the reward of serving their country and hopefully coming home alive.

Putting it all in perspective, working 10 days straight is no great accomplishment or even hardship. I have obviously been softened by decades of Monday to Friday work and need to harden up to succeed in order to achieve my dream of early retirement.