Timeless Words of Advice

A few weeks ago, I wrote about thought followership.  This concept isn’t exactly the opposite of thought leadership.  Gurus don’t have monopolies on good ideas. New concepts most often come to people who are building on their own thoughts in the context of other concepts.  Your ability to take existing concepts and extend them while conveying them to others is a very valuable trait in today’s world.  Nowhere is this more valuable (to yourself) or apparent than in your first days in a new job.  This is when first impressions are made.

Last week, I was at an internal meeting with two different groups.  Along with some very tenured people, there was one individual who had her first day, one who hired into my team a few months ago, and someone I’ve known for a while who just joined a new team with very different responsibilities.  As I was riding back to the hotel we were staying, my boss and I talked about how well the recent additions picked up ideas and brought their backgrounds to the discussions.  Strong personalities often dominated the conversation and at times it was tough to pick your spot to make a point.  It would have been very easy for the newer people to just sit back and watch the verbal tennis match going back and forth.  They didn’t, though.  What they did was show the rest of us that they were going to be valuable teammates who could take guidance AND give advice.
The Coke Way
The Coke Way
I was at a family event a few days later and had a talk with my brother’s father-in-law, Marc Hamburger, whom I greatly respect.  He mentioned an email from a friend, Peter Sealey, which was advice to his daughter as she started a new job.  Marc thought some of the concepts would be dated and some applicable.  Below is the content of the email.  They reflect a lot of my own opinions.  The core of what he says will remain the same as long as I can foresee.  It will, of course, evolve with specific changes over time.  More of my opinions are below:

My daughter recently accepted a new job. She asked me what advice I had for someone in her circumstances to maximize her chances to do well in this new position. Here is what I said to her. Hope it works!

Some Fundamental Things I Learned in Business

Your first few weeks on a new job serve to set everyone’s assessment of how you work and what you’re going to be like as an associate. Almost nothing you do later can modify the impression you set at the outset. Make a superb impression at the outset, and your colleagues will overlook mistakes you make in the future. Make a mediocre impression at the outset, and there’s little you can do to improve people’s initial impression of you.

In this regard, I have learned a few lessons over the course of my business career.

1. Be the first person in the office in the morning and the last to leave in the evening. Being visible is a profound signal of who you are.

2. You will be asked to be in the office at times that interfere with your personal life. Accept this with enthusiasm and grace. (One time, Coke asked me to work Christmas eve and Christmas day because the company required a senior office to be on premise in case a major incident occurred somewhere on the globe. At first, I was angry, but then I realized the trust the company was placing in me. Nothing happened, but I was flattered that I was someone who was trusted to be in charge.)

3. You have one sick day per year. No more. If you have an illness that debilitates you, go to the office until you turn green and are ordered to go home.

4. Answer your own phone. It makes a huge impression on everyone who calls you.

5. Volunteer to do more and to do things outside your assigned responsibility. Empty the trash if necessary.

6. Meet with anyone who asks to see you. You will waste some time. But once in awhile, a gem walks in your office.

7. Do not socialize with your subordinates. You are their supervisor and that role takes priority. One day you might have to terminate someone, and it’s easier if that person is not your personal friend.

8. Remember that most people who look up to you do so for the title on your business card. Lose that business card and they forget about you in an instant. As intoxicating as power might be, never be confused by this.

9. Hit the road running. Be energetic and open. Don’t bring “[Your old company]” way to your new job. They are different organizations and some will resent your past. Leave your past in [where you’re from]. It will be hard to do, so be aware of the temptation.

10. Give credit to your associates and subordinates. As Robert Woodruff said: There is no limit to how far a man can go if he doesn’t care who gets the credit.

11. Hire people who are smarter than you. Don’t be threatened by smart subordinates. Once folks see that you will give them credit and recognition, they will line up to work for you. Nothing advances your career more than a talented group around you.

12. After 90 days on the job, write a memo about your observations and opportunities for business growth.

I know you’ll do great. Just wanted to share some of my lessons learned.


Much of this has to do with being committed and reliable.  Someone people rapidly learn to count upon.  Everybody likes working with a person who carries their own load and doesn’t need to be carried.  Many of us don’t work in an office these days but showing up for work early and being available late is still important.  You can tell when a person isn’t at their desk or takes excess time out to run errands while on the clock.  Remote workers may think they’re immune from this factor but they’re not.  Being around matters even in a virtual world.
One aspect I believe has changed are the points about getting close to workers and the concept of your title being your job.  There are always going to be people who need to hear themselves speak.  They’re not leaders and they’re not good managers either.  However, there’s been a flattening of organizations in a lot of businesses.  Not necessarily a flattening of org charts, but a democratization of ideas where it’s recognized that valuable concepts come from the top, the bottom, and in between.  The practice of hiring smart people only means something if you actually let them do their jobs.  Great management can steer them for the company while giving them the freedom to work in new ways.
As a result, that title on your business card can help you get in the room.  It won’t help you stay there or win respect.  If you rely on a title to get respect then you’re not going to get it.  The way to earn and keep respect is by bringing the passion which Peter’s letter speaks of to your work and playing well with the other smart people.  Identifying where to make an impact and get noticed while aggressively learning can’t be understated.  This is how you get the credibility to be belligerently positive.
I do think it’s totally fine for managers and employees to have good relationships.  Never lose sight of the fact that work and professional lives need to be distinct in important ways, but taking a personal interest in how your employees and co-workers are getting along shows that you care.  I’m not sure it’s truly possible to understand what a person brings to work without knowing them as people.

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