Lessons from Santa

No matter how you celebrate the holidays, or even which holidays you celebrate, chances are you know about Santa Claus.  The jolly old elf brings merriment to the season, but he also teaches us many valuable lessons.

Of course, the first is the value of giving.  Aside from milk and cookies, Santa doesn’t get anything in return for all the gifts he shares with others.  That is the real spirit of giving:  not expecting anything in return.  The joy of giving is reward enough.

Santa is a genius in marketing and public relations.  His image is everywhere, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t pay a dime for the exposure.  He attracts crowds wherever he goes.  Businesses put him front and center in ads, decorations, even in big comfy chairs in prime locations in shopping malls.  They practically beg him to show up!

He is recognizable and hasn’t changed his basic look since time began.  More people can identify Santa than the President.  His distinctive style of dress will never get him on a best-dressed list.  But he doesn’t concern himself with that.  His message has remained the same:  a simple “Ho, Ho, Ho.”  He doesn’t drive the latest model car.  He is who he is and is content with that.  What he does is more important than fad or fashion.

His attitude is contagious.  He is always positive, reminding young and old alike to be good for goodness sake.  How he keeps track of who is naughty or nice doesn’t really matter – he encourages everyone to be their best.   He rewards good behavior.  And who doesn’t like to be recognized for trying?

HarveySantaSanta respects deadlines.  He knows from one December 25th to the next that he has customers to satisfy.  He is beholden to the calendar.  It wouldn’t work to try to stretch it into January or February.  Reliability is an important trait.

Santa understands the value of tradition.  Most of us have family or cultural traditions that bind us together.  Businesses have traditions that customers anticipate.  But have you ever noticed what happens when someone tries to change a long-held tradition?  Santa knows better.

Customer service is high on his priority list.  He aims to please, and he rarely disappoints.  I’m guessing he reads every letter written in a childish scrawl before he makes his list.  If you happen to overhear a conversation between Santa and a child asking for the hottest toy of the year, you will likely hear a promise to do his best, but he has some other great ideas too.  He won’t promise what he can’t deliver.

Teamwork is central to his operation.  The demands on him are enormous.  He understands that he can’t do it alone.  A workshop full of elves and a team of nine little reindeer help him accomplish an impossible task year after year.  I’ve heard there is magic involved, but I have no evidence to support it.

In that same vein, he epitomizes leadership.  He leads his team, but he also guides the rest of believers toward the right path.  He is consistent with his values.  He is patient.  He works hard.  He is forgiving of mistakes and loves what he does.  And that brings me to my next point.

I’m fond of saying, “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  There can be no question that this guy wouldn’t want to do anything else.  Santa couldn’t do what he has done for centuries without real enthusiasm for his efforts.

Santa takes his work very seriously, but he doesn’t take himself seriously.  He loves to laugh, make people happy, bring surprises, and spread good cheer.  Santa understands that fun is good.  In a world full of serious problems, bringing a little happiness is a welcome relief.  We can all do something to brighten someone else’s day.

Here is a shameless plug for getting on Santa’s “nice” list:  This month I will once again be donning a Santa hat and taking a shift ringing bells for the Salvation Army.  For 12 years I have had this pleasure, and I hope to continue this tradition for many more holiday seasons.  I encourage you to toss a few coins or dollars into the red kettle, or help whatever charity you can.  Even if Santa doesn’t see you, you can be sure you have embodied his spirit.

 

Mackay’s Moral: Happy holidays to all.

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Turn firing upside down

What’s one of the hardest tasks in business today?  It’s not starting a business.  It’s not raising money.  It’s not even making a profit.  According to The Wall Street Journal, it’s firing an employee.

If someone doesn’t fit into an organization, they hurt both themselves and the organization.  If you put on a shoe that didn’t fit, would you still wear it?  Obviously the answer is no, but when people don’t fit into an organization, it’s often easier to pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

However, pretending won’t make the problem go away.  You either deal with the problem now or you wait for the problem to get worse much later.  Which do you think is the smarter solution?

The best way to avoid firing someone is to hire the right person in the first place.  From the beginning, work and coach each new employee so you and that person know how they can reach their goals, dreams, hopes and vision by working at your company.

When people understand how they can benefit by helping the company benefit, everyone wins.  Unfortunately, sometimes we do hire the wrong person and sometimes the right person changes goals so they no longer fit in the company.

HarveyFiringFiring may seem like an extreme action – and it can be.  If an employee is chronically late, does sloppy work, is dishonest, refuses to be a team player, or demonstrates general contempt or disregard for the job or company, it’s time to cut ties.

Sometimes, however, the person just doesn’t work out.  And despite efforts to remedy the situation, firing becomes the best option.

But firing should always create a better situation for both parties.

First, look to see if there is a position that would be a better fit within the current organization.  If that’s not possible, then help that person find a position elsewhere.  The goal is to satisfy and improve both your company and the fired employee.  When you can make the fired employee see greater opportunities, you’ll realize that firing doesn’t have to be painful for anyone.

In fact, firing can be the best thing you can do for your organization and for your employees.  Think of firing as a way for everyone to move on to a better future.  And who doesn’t want a brighter future for themselves?

James Whitaker, the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest, said:  “You don’t really conquer such a mountain.  You conquer yourself.”

Whitaker was a relentless trainer.  He tried to anticipate every challenge, emotional and physical.  Obstacles came at him right and left:  avalanches, dehydration, hypothermia, oxygen shortage at 29,000 feet and the fatigue it caused.  “You overcome the sickness and everything else – your pain, aches, fears – to reach the summit.”

To reach your destination, achievers like Whitaker focus on the road rather than the bumps in it:

  • Lost the job of a lifetime?  Were you right for it in the first place?  How much time would you have wasted trying to make something work that should never have been?
  • Failed in a flash?  Experts say that the entrepreneurs who suffer most and who achieve the least are the ones whose businesses die slow deaths.  Better to get it over with in a hurry and move on than to agonize for years trying to squeeze life out of a weak idea.
  • Been beaten up?  The first golf balls were smooth.  An avid-but-broke golfer couldn’t afford new ones.  He picked up nicked balls he found littered on the course.  The funny thing was he kept beating his well-heeled friends with their shiny new balls.  Today’s golf balls have 432 dimples.  These ‘rough spots’ enhance the ball’s distance and accuracy.  The rough spots in your life sharpen your performance.
  • Stewing in your worries?  Did you know that the English word ‘worry’ originates from an Anglo-Saxon term meaning to ‘strangle or choke?’  It’s not adversity that cripples us:  It’s worrying about what could happen.  A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.  Back in 1948, Dale Carnegie titled one of his classics:  How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.  As a kid, this masterpiece had as much influence on me as any book I have ever read.
  • Short on know-how?  The person who knows “how” will always have a job.  Lesson two:  The person who knows “why” will always be the boss.

 

Mackay’s Moral:  Some people rebound from a firing setback because they are destined to.  Most people rebound because they are determined to.

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Stand out at work

There’s an old joke about farmers:  They are “outstanding” in their fields.  Or is it “out, standing” in their fields?

If you want to be outstanding in your field, you probably don’t have acres of land to make the anecdote amusing.  But there is nothing funny about being a standout at work.  In fact, it’s a topic we take very seriously.

Businesses depend on strong relationships to make them work.  Everyone needs to contribute, to pull their own weight, to get the job done.  Things work well when everyone gets involved and does their part.  They work even better when someone goes above and beyond to ensure success.  There are everyday hard workers, and then there are standouts.

Teamwork is a lesson I preach day in and day out.  Team players will always have a place at the table.  But if you’ve been sitting in the same place for far too long, perhaps it’s because you haven’t gotten the recognition you deserve.

At the risk of looking like a show-boater, you have avoided taking too much credit or bragging yourself up.  You’ve done your job well – in fact, some projects would never have been so successful had you not been involved.   So how do you get people to notice?

Doing a good job isn’t enough to succeed at work.  You’ve got to be visible to make a real impact.  Here’s how to raise your profile in your workplace:

  • Talk to your boss.  Make time to check in with your manager when you don’t have a problem to report or a question to ask.  Don’t impose on his or her time; just discuss what’s going on, drop a suggestion or chat.  This builds a routine of regular, informal communication that can enhance your boss’s opinion of you.
  • Show up on time, or even better, be early.  Regardless of how well you perform, if you aren’t there when the workday starts, you are missing prime time to connect and get organized for the day.  Latecomers get noticed, but for the wrong reasons. 
  • Dress appropriately.  Whether the office is formal or casual, your appearance makes a big impact.  You’d rather be noticed for what’s in your head than what’s on your body.
  • Network to share your expertise.  Get to know the most talented people in your organization, regardless of their job title or position. You’ll earn a positive reputation if you help them out whenever you can.  You’ll establish positive relationships and gain a reputation as someone who puts the organization’s objectives first.
  • Ask for help from people who can mentor you.  Seek advice on skills you need to develop from someone whom you admire and want to emulate.  Let them know that you are ambitious and want to succeed.
  • Be friendly.  Your demeanor gives away your desire to get along.  Make sure you project a pleasant attitude.
  • Praise others.  Sometimes the best way to gain credit is to give it.  When you achieve something significant, make sure your boss knows who helped you (and that they know you’re sharing the information).  Not only do you look like a generous colleague, but you’ll also be seen as a good team player.
  • volunteer_5Volunteer.  Don’t wait for your boss to ask you about joining a task force or committee.  It’ll bring you into contact with colleagues outside your department and brighten your image throughout the organization.
  • Take on projects that no one else wants.  Every company has a few tasks that other workers are afraid to tackle.  The work still has to get done, and the boss is looking for a volunteer.  Step up and get the job done, and you’ll be someone’s hero.
  • Attend company events.  Take advantage of opportunities to connect outside the regular workday and get to know your managers and co-workers on a new level.  I love it when I see my co-workers mingle outside the workplace.
  • Stay ahead of industry developments.  Read trade publications and study market trends.  Learn new technology that could benefit your organization.  Be ready to move up the ladder before the next promotion opportunity arises.
  • Finally, and most importantly, show enthusiasm for your job.  “Give me a stock clerk who wants to work and I will give you a person who will make history,” said department store founder J. C. Penney.  “Give me a person who does not want to work, and I will give you a stock person.”

 

Mackay’s Moral:  To be a standout, you must stand for only your best.

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We all have reasons to give thanks

Think that you have little to be thankful for this month?  Haven’t taken time to think about the blessings you have?

For starters, you can be grateful that you weren’t one of the pilgrims who broke bread together that first Thanksgiving in 1621.  I clipped these facts from the Arizona Republic years ago, just to remind myself that even on the toughest days, I have nothing to complain about.  Here’s what some of our ancestors encountered to come to America.

They had uprooted themselves from their lives and sailed for the New World.  The journey was so hazardous that guides advised travelers to “First, make thy will.”

The trip was treacherous, to say the least.  The Mayflower was actually blown off course, and instead of reaching Virginia, where there were Englishmen who had settled there 13 years earlier, the pilgrims ended up in the wilds of Massachusetts.

When they finally found and settled on Plymouth, winter had set in.  The storms were terrible, and shelter was only rudimentary.  With little food, nearly all the settlers fell ill.

Within three months of settling in Plymouth, nearly half the company died from disease and starvation.  “There died sometimes two or three of a day,” Colonial Governor William Bradford later recalled.

harveythanksgivingThough Native Americans showed the pilgrims how to plant corn, the settlers’ first crops were dismal.  Soon, supplies ran out and England refused to send more.  Yet they persevered.  I doubt any of us has ever faced such daunting obstacles.

By comparison, our lives seem pretty manageable.  Developing an attitude of gratitude takes so little effort, yet many of us need a refresher course in how to be thankful for what we have.

Thanksgiving is a time for togetherness.  Take time to relax.  Don’t overschedule yourself.  Build some extra time into your day so you can talk to family and friends, enjoy your meal and genuinely give thanks for being together.

Stop and take note of the things in your life that are good, instead of focusing on the current – and often inconsequential – things that seem to be going wrong.  Take care not to fall into whining, even though we almost all do now and then.  But it can become a bad habit if you don’t take stock of the good things in your life once in a while.

The trick is to not take things for granted.   Sometimes this arises from the idea that life owes us better than we are receiving.  Sometimes it comes from habits we have mindlessly picked up from other people.  But whining and complaining won’t likely change your situation or how you feel.  When you are in the midst of a pity party, you might want to try some of the following tips to remind yourself just how much you have to be thankful for.

Stop and smell the roses.  Take some time out to acknowledge the good things in life.  Take the day off and do something fun, take a bike ride or a walk to enjoy the beauty of nature.  Look at the world around you from a different angle.

Do something for someone else.  If you are focused solely on your own problems, one of the best ways to break the cycle of negativity is to go out and do something for someone else.  Volunteer at a foodbank, cook dinner for an ailing neighbor or help out with a community project.  The point is to change your focus and do something good for another person.  These types of activities can radically change your mood and put your own situation in perspective.

Talk about the good things in life.  Even if it feels awkward, say something positive.  Break through the barrier of negativity that you are trapped in.  Vow to say something positive at least once a day for a week.  You likely will be surprised by the power of your own thoughts and words on your mood.

May I give you an example of the good things in my life for which I am thankful?  Top of the list is my wife and family.  I’m grateful for the example my parents set for my sister and me.  I am blessed with wonderful and loyal friends.  I appreciate the people who have worked for me and with me over the years.  I am very appreciative for the audiences I speak to and the readers of my books and columns.  In short, I can always find something to be thankful for.

 

Mackay’s Moral:  Happy Thanksgiving – and happy thanks giving.

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Happy people make other people happy

There is a fable about a little girl who was feeling particularly lonely and blue when she happened across a gorgeous butterfly trapped in the thorns of a blackberry bush.  Taking great care not to tear its fragile wings, the girl’s nimble fingers finally worked the insect free, whereupon, instead of fluttering away, it turned into a golden fairy who offered to grant any wish.

“I want to be happy!” the little girl cried.

The fairy smiled, leaned forward, whispered something in her ear and vanished.  And from that day forward there was no more happy spirit in the land than that child, who grew into a merry woman and a contented old lady.  On her deathbed, her neighbors crowded around, desperate that the secret of happiness not die with her.

“Tell us, please tell us, what the fairy said to you,” they pleaded.

The neighbor smiled benevolently, and whispered, “She told me that everyone – no matter how rich or secure or self-contained or successful they might appear – had need of me.”

How true!  Everyone needs to be needed.  It brings tremendous satisfaction to know that you have such a vital purpose in life, one that surely contributes to your happiness and contentment.

HarveySmileI’ve learned over the years that happiness comes from making other people happy.   Successful people, as well as successful businesses, take great joy in finding ways to spread happiness.  Why is Disneyland the “happiest place on earth”?   Is it any wonder that one of the biggest songs of the year is Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”?  How many Happy Meals do you think McDonald’s sells?   Have you ever attended a happy hour at your favorite watering hole?

Businesses that are clued in to what customers want find ways to incorporate “happy” into the sale.  A new car doesn’t drive any better because the dealership was decked out in balloons and offered free hot dogs.  But a happy experience beats an ordinary one most days.

Following that line of thought, it turns out that the conventional wisdom is wrong:  It is possible to buy happiness – when you spend your money on others.  Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard University found that people who buy gifts for others and make charitable donations report being happier than people who spend their money primarily on themselves.  The scientists studied 630 Americans and asked them to rate their general happiness, their annual income, and their monthly spending – including bills, gifts for themselves, gifts for others and charitable contributions.

And again, it illustrates the point that knowing that others have need of you brightens your outlook.

Even our nation’s Declaration of Independence places a premium on happiness, stating that we are “bestowed with certain unalienable rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Thomas Jefferson and company left it up to us to figure out how to pursue happiness, but I have some thoughts for you.  Here’s my prescription for happiness.  Use it regularly and you will see wonderful results.

  1. Don’t let little things bother you.  There is always something better to think about.
  2. Keep your perspective.  Put first things first and stay the course.
  3. Only worry about what you can control.  If you cannot do anything about a situation, worrying won’t make it – or you – better.
  4. Do your best, but understand that you can’t always be a perfectionist.  Don’t condemn yourself or others for not achieving perfection.
  5. When you are right, be gracious.  When wrong, be even more gracious.
  6. Trust or believe people whenever you can, and when that isn’t possible, accept them at their worst and weakest.  You can keep your convictions without destroying others.
  7. Don’t compare yourself to others, which is the guarantee of instant misery.  People are different for many reasons.
  8. Brush away the chip on your shoulder so that when something happens to you that you don’t like, you can take the high road.
  9. Give of yourself wholeheartedly or enthusiastically.  When you have nothing left to give, someone will return the favor.
  10. Make happiness the aim of your life instead of bracing for life’s barbs.
  11. Remember, you are responsible for your own happiness.  Others can do kind things for you, but you must be open to being happy.  But don’t let that stop you from trying to make others happy!

Mackay’s Moral:  You are only as happy as you decide to be.

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