Be a friend to make a friend

Aristotle viewed friendship among the highest virtues.  It was an essential element in a full, virtuous and worthwhile life.  For Aristotle, there were three kinds of friendship:

  1. Friendship of pleasure:  Two people are wonderfully happy in each other’s company.
  2. Friendship of utility:  Two people assist each other in everyday aspects of life.
  3. Friendship of virtue:  Two people mutually admire each other and will be on best behavior in order not to jeopardize their relationship.

The value of friendships is perhaps most emphasized throughout the holidays.  We share special gifts, look for opportunities to connect, and vow to do a better job of keeping in touch.  That’s so much easier said than done, given the busy-ness that we call life.

I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn’t had such loyal and true friends.  I am fortunate to number among my friends several classmates from first grade, as well as people I just met.  My friends have saved my bacon over and over again.  A few have actually saved my life.

So where does friendship fit into your business life?  That’s what often begins as “friendship of utility.”

You probably spend most of your waking hours at work, so friendships are natural. Working together can easily turn co-workers into best friends, making jobs more enjoyable and the workplace a home away from home instead of a pit of boredom or an arena of stress.

But friendships need to be managed appropriately just like every other workplace relationship.  You need to understand and respect each other’s boundaries and privacy, just like with personal relationships.  But work issues can present some unique challenges so that neither your friendships nor your job are at risk.

  • Limit social chatter.  Don’t let your friendly conversations overshadow your responsibilities. Stay focused on your job most of the time.
  • Keep private issues private.  When you have problems to discuss, do it over lunch or after work.  You don’t want to make your co-workers privy to your personal dramas – and they probably don’t want to listen to them either.
  • Avoid gossip.  Most of us love to talk about other people, but keep your natural inclination to share rumors about co-workers or managers in check.  If colleagues realize you’re gossiping about them, the backlash could be unpleasant.
  • Don’t do each other’s jobs.  Pitching in to help a friend in a crunch is admirable, but keep to a reasonable limit.  Your manager is in charge of assignments and responsibilities, not you.  You don’t want to spend so much time helping a friend do his or her job that you neglect your own.
  • Include, don’t exclude.  Don’t ignore the rest of your work place.  Invite other co-workers to lunch, and include them in your conversations so they don’t feel left out.  You may even make new friends by expanding your circle at work.

HarveyfriendshipIf you value your relationships with family and friends outside of work, you need to work to maintain them.  Take a few cues from your job for evaluating your priorities and scheduling your activities.  These “friendships of pleasure” are worth all the effort you put into them.

A mission statement might be helpful.  You have career goals and aspirations. It’s just as important to establish what kind of relationship you want with your family and friends.  A clear mission statement can help keep you focused on your personal life goals, especially when your schedule gets demanding.

Time management is just as important for friendships as for your business schedule.  Keep all your commitments with family and friends on one calendar, planner or smartphone so nothing falls through the cracks.

Spend some time planning your personal time.  Review your schedule so that you are prepared for your most important activities.

Honor your plans. When you must choose between events, decide which is more in line with your mission, values and goals.

Finally, I’m not sure if this is the best example of a “friendship of virtue,” but I love this story.

A losing football coach felt all the fates were against him.  The team hated him, the fans hated him, even his wife and children were losing confidence in him.  The only one who loved him was his dog.  The dog was always glad to see him.

The coach told his wife, “A dog is fine, but a man can’t live with just one friend.”

So she bought him a second dog.

 

Mackay’s Moral:  The best vitamin for developing friends is B1.

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.

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.

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.

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.