In a departure from topics that are ‘all things marketing…’
I’ve been thinking about the various jobs I’ve held throughout my working life and how I’ve landed where I have. I’ve enjoyed a very successful career, and it’s because I’ve had help along the way. Yes, I’ve done much on my own, but I’ve had support, advice, recommendations and had access to open positions because of others who wanted to help me.
I am acquainted with a woman who was in a very senior role at AOL. I did not know her all that well while I was there. But I would reach out to her from time to time after leaving AOL for her advice and input on various topics. She ALWAYS responded to my emails with thoughtful, helpful advice and guidance. Not too long ago we met for dinner – at her suggestion. We got to talking about AOL and how we all now know people in many companies all over the country. It’s like we have an ‘in,’ no matter where we want to go. And she told me that whenever someone from AOL reaches out to her, she always responds. Even if she doesn’t know the person, she always tries to help.
Lesson 1 is a simple lesson that’s worth learning: it’s important to help others. Helping others is not only great for them, but it makes you feel pretty good too. It’s a win-win! Helping is easy and costs you nothing.
There are some people who I always list as references when I’m interviewing. Why? Because they want to help. They know me well from working with me in the past, and they are supportive. It’s important to know who you can count on in work (and personal!) life. And it’s equally important to be someone yourself who can be counted on.
Lesson 2 is: it’s equally important to know when to move away from those who aren’t helpful. We’ve all worked with people who do not care about helping others. Unless there’s a benefit to themselves, they aren’t interested. These aren’t necessarily bad people, but they are certain to be selfish and perhaps even a little manipulative, even if they don’t realize it. Spotting those folks, accepting who they are…and keeping your distance, is important.
As Mr. Rogers used to say: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Robert Fulghum wrote a book in 1989 called: All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. (You can buy it here). It was so simple and easy to read that it became a sensation virtually overnight. And that was before the Internet! To date he has sold over 7 million copies of his book, and it is the inspiration for this blog post.
Here’s what Fulghum says he learned and how I think it applies to the workplace (all book quotes used with author’s permission):
1. ‘Share everything.’ It’s important to share your industry and/or company and/or product knowledge with other employees. Why? Because it helps people trust you and might help them succeed. Don’t hold back. If someone asks you a question, answer it honestly. Be a mentor. There has probably been a time in your career when you really could have used one. Share useful information. It doesn’t hurt.
2. ‘Play fair.’ That means no cheating or undermining others. They’ll find out and then they won’t trust you anymore. Trust is a tough thing to win, and an easy thing to lose. Tweet this!
3. ‘Don’t hit people.’ Or stated differently, be nice. Shouting in an office situation for instance is NEVER necessary. It does not make you sound smarter or be more right, and it will certainly damage your credibility. Being labeled as a bully won’t do you any good.
4. ‘Put things back where you found them.’ If you use someone’s stuff, make sure you put it back, in good condition. Same applies to using community things, like in your lunchroom at work.
5. ‘Clean up your own mess.’ Own it and make it right. If you made a mess of a presentation, acknowledge it and go about making it right. If you said something that created angst with your employees, own it and correct the situation. If something you did made someone look bad, own it and apologize.
6. ‘Don’t take things that aren’t yours.’ That means someone’s lunch from the fridge, someone’s mug from the shelf, someone’s umbrella drying by the door…and someone’s idea that you overheard being discussed.
7. ‘Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.’ Again, own it and make it as right as you can. It’s hard to take back words, so think before you speak or take an action that you might regret.
8. ‘Wash your hands before you eat.’ Get rid of germs and feed your mind well. Eating is important, as is taking care of yourself. Keep your brain healthy.
9. ‘Flush.’ Sometimes you just have to let it go. Whether it’s bad thoughts about someone or ideas for revenge, sometimes it’s best to just flush those thoughts. Keep a mental ‘file 13’ (aka trash), and load it and empty it frequently.
10. ‘Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.’ Duh. It’s always wise to treat yourself.
11. ‘Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.’ Volumes have been written about work/life balance and how important it is. Working hard is important, but enjoying a life outside of work is important too to your own health and well-being. Not only that, but downtime will make you a better employee. There are many studies that have been done that illustrate the importance of taking a break from work. There’s more to life than the office. Start a new hobby, volunteer somewhere, begin a fitness program. Whatever it is, don’t just work.
12. ‘Take a nap every afternoon.’ I’ve never worked for a company where this was encouraged, but there are studies that show that napping improves your creativity and can make you more alert. At Google they even have nap pods for employees to use.
13. ‘When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.’ Look out for your peers. Everyone can use help sometime, and sometimes the world can be a dangerous place. Remember, there is no ‘i’ in team.
14. ‘Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.’ If something doesn’t make sense, question why. Some things are the way they are for a reason, but others should be changed. Understand the difference and appreciate the ‘wonder of why’ before you try to change a sacred cow. But don’t be afraid to question ‘the way it’s always been done.’
15. ‘Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.’ Life is short. Don’t waste one minute of it being an asshole.
16. ‘And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first words you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.’ Look for the one good thing in the person at work who you really can’t stand. Everyone has one good trait. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find it.