Dad’s three rules for success

DadMany decades ago on a summer Friday evening when the fish didn’t seem to be biting, Dad decided we could spend our time better having a beer. We gathered up our fishing tackle and went to the little tavern in Green Lake Terrace, Wisconsin, where we had a summer home.

From the comfort of a bar stool, he told me three secrets to business success — and he’d had a variety of experience.

1. Always stay as polite as you can for as long as you can. If you start out mad, where can you go from there? Besides, if you’re polite, calm, and rational, the person you’re dealing with will feel obliged to act that way, too, and this is more likely to get you what you want.

My dad added that this can require calculated self-control, and the point might come when politeness doesn’t work. He earned the nickname “the bastard” at work for his ability to be impolitely assertive in a self-controlled, calculated way when he had to. For example, once a machine was delivered that didn’t work right, and in heavy manufacturing, operating errors can kill people. The supplier refused to fix the machine. Finally, my dad talked to the supplier and explained in simple Anglo-Saxon words why they had to fix their machine, or else — and they finally understood what would happen if they didn’t.

My father didn’t teach me how to swear, but he taught me when to swear.

2. Always remember that the people who work for you have it in their power to determine whether you’re a success or not. Treat them as well as you can. If your employees hate you, they have no incentive to work harder than they need to. In fact, they might even make things fail out of spite — this has actually happened.

If your employees know you’re trying your best to get them what they need, fighting on their behalf with the powers that be, and respecting them, they’ll go the extra mile. Experienced workers treasure a good boss. For some reason, my dad said, good bosses are rare.

This secret to success extends to all kinds of people who don’t work for you but who have a working relationship with you. If you appreciate them, they’ll return the favor in their area of expertise. Be on good terms with janitors, for example. They know more about the building than you ever will, and they can make things happen. Everyone is powerful in their own right.

3. Always tip bartenders. Bartenders remember regular customers who tip, and that means you’ll have a friend in the room.

For example, when my dad entertained clients, he could pre-arrange for his friendly bartender to quietly slip him non-alcoholic drinks while the others were getting what they ordered. It helped to be clandestinely sober during business discussions.

And if for some reason you have a problem, and women sometimes do, you’ll have a friend in the room who is important to that room.

In short: treat people not just fairly, treat them as well as you can and with respect. That’s the secret to success at work. Thanks, Dad. I wish you were still here.

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