Dad’s three rules for workplace success

 

Headshot of my father

Dad

For Father’s Day

Late one Friday decades ago when the fish weren’t biting, Dad decided that instead of trying to catch those uncooperative fish, he and I could spend our time better having a beer at 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 success at work — and he’d had a variety of experiences in life.

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 lead to success.

My dad added that this can require calculated self-control, and the moment 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, a machine had been 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 the situation.

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.

But 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. My dad added that for some reason, good bosses seem to be rare.

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

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 actually ordered. It helped to be clandestinely sober during business discussions.

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.

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