For 25 years, I kept a “Secret Journal” at work, with notes about people I worked with over the years.
Today, I’m making it public.I kept a Secret Journal with entries about people I worked with during my career. Today, I'm making it public. Click To Tweet
I titled my journal “Lessons Learned From Bosses”, and gave myself a self-imposed challenge to learn 6 lessons from everyone I worked for:
- 3 positive attributes I wanted to apply in my own life.
- 3 negative attributes I was hoping to avoid.
The lessons were learned primarily through the behavior of my bosses, though at times I also captured relevant quotes. If I saw my boss doing something that made people cringe, or I found demotivating, I’d add it to the “negative” list. If they did something well or made a comment that motivated me, it went on the “positive” list. Sometimes, I’d take the opposite of a negative I had observed, and write it as a positive.
I enjoyed keeping this journal throughout my career.
Today, I’m excited to make it public.
Below, I share some of the best lessons from my Secret Journal, with names withheld to protect the innocent.
Note To All: Be Self-Aware. Others are observing you. The words you say, and the actions you take, make an impact on those around you. I’m not the only one who is affected by a boss’s behaviors at work. Someone who works with you may even be keeping their own secret journal…
We all have positive and negative attributes. Be introspective, and continually seek to improve the way you interact with others. Add to your positives, and work to minimize your negatives. Over time, you may just become a better boss and a better person.
(Side Note: Images are dancing through my head as I type these words. Many of the folks I worked with are readers of this blog, and I suspect they’ll be trying to figure out what I learned from whom. Have fun, folks, but I’ll warn you in advance that you’re attempting an impossible task. For fun, I did include a few hints on those lessons where I felt it appropriate to indicate the source. I suspect many of you will hear my voice in some of these lessons, as I applied the lessons and gave them as advice to others. Now, you’ll know they came from my secret journal. Surprise! )
The secret journal expanded beyond bosses over the years to include other work associates who taught me lessons. I changed the journal’s name to “Lessons Learned”, loosened up on my “3 Positives / 3 Negatives”, and began writing notes into my secret journal whenever I saw or heard something that I wanted to capture. None of my co-workers ever knew I was keeping the journal, and I doubt that many of remember teaching me these lessons. I hope a few folks remember the lessons I tried to teach to them during my journey.
Today, I’m sharing the lessons from my secret journal for the benefit of you, the reader.
Revealing My Secret Journal
I decided to reveal the existence of my secret journal on the night of my retirement speech when I cited 6 Lessons Learned From 33 Years In Corporate America. I mentioned my secret journal and read verbatim the following lines from a friend’s retirement speech 10 years earlier, which I had captured in my secret journal:
- Before you speak, listen.
- Before you write, think.
- Before you spend, earn.
- Before you criticize, wait.
- Before you pray, forgive.
- Before you quit, try.
- Before you retire, save.
- Before you die, give.
As I closed out my retirement speech, I cited my secret journal, and left my co-workers with the following advice, which was the final of the 6 Lessons I shared that night:
Learn from everyone you come in contact with, and write down the lessons you learn.
It’s Time To Share The Secrets
Since I’ve been retired for 9 months, I’ve decided to share my favorite “Secret Lessons” with you today. Below, in no particular order, are the lessons which have most resonated from my 30+ year career in Corporate America.
Appraise Others “From Below”
When managers are evaluating candidates for a role, they most often look to their management peers for input. Since your peers are also managers, this approach only results in “feedback from above”. Instead, focus on talking to folks equal to, or below, the candidate you’re considering. This “feedback from below” is more important, since you’re looking for the candidate who best motivates those “below” them.
Most people “manage up” differently than they “manage down”. You want the ones who are good at “managing down”. Avoid those who focus on “managing up” to the detriment of those they’re being paid to manage.
From a man I worked for several times during my career, and highly respected. He gave this advice on my last day working for him. I was leaving the next day for a new city, having just been promoted to my first management role. This was one of the most important lessons I learned in my career, and I’ve seen the wisdom of this lesson time and time again. Every time I made a personnel decision, this lesson came back to me. Thanks for the great advice, Jack. I hope Florida is treating you well in retirement.
Always Provide Context
When you’re asking someone to do something, always provide the context surrounding the request. Folks respond more favorably to a request if they understand why they’re being asked to do something. Also, they’re more likely to do a better job at the task if they understand the broader context of why they’re doing it.
From the Steelers fan who used to take on the Auto companies with me. I’ll never forget our first trip into Detroit, that meeting with Tony was legendary!
Make The Other Person The Most Important In The Room
People appreciate being shown respect. Make someone feel that they’re the most important person in the room, not just through words but (more importantly) in the way you treat them. Focus on what they’re saying, and listen with both ears.
From a man who died way too early. Ed, thanks for always making me feel special. You’re still missed today.
Related Entry: “Making others feel stupid demoralizes them.”
(The related entry was from someone who should have learned from Ed. I’m glad you got fired.)
Focus on the job, not the next promotion.
Too many folks worry too much about their next promotion and not enough about excelling at their current job. Put your effort into going above and beyond in what you’re being paid to do. The best way to a promotion is through exceptional work in your current role.
Related Entry: You don’t get anything you don’t earn, don’t expect something for nothing.
No one likes a whiner, and whiners tend to suffer in their careers. Whining hurts your reputation, which is your most valuable asset. Be positive and proactive, and be very careful if you find yourself complaining.
Related Secret Journal Entry: “Choose to be an optimist, it’s more fun than the alternative.”
Another related Entry: “Only you can choose your attitude, so choose to be positive.”
Give Public Recognition
When someone does a good job, give them public recognition. It’s been proven that public recognition can motivate people more than money. Don’t take credit for the work of others.
Related Entry: “Don’t Shine Your Shoes With Other’s Sweat“. (I’ve always loved that line, it came to mind many times during my career as I saw people take credit for work I knew others had really done)
Maintain Work/Life Balance
Over the years, I’ve (unfortunately) known many workaholics. Some excel in the workplace, but their personal life suffers. I first witnessed it early in my career, and always made it a priority to attempt to maintain balance in my life.
Sure, there are times when work must take priority. Don’t neglect the times that the opposite is true.
Be Thankful For The Problems
If it weren’t for the challenges you’re working to fix, you wouldn’t have a job. Any monkey can run an organization that is running trouble free. Be thankful for the problems, they justify your pay. Continually look for more problems to fix. Fixing problems is the ticket to success.
Choose Your Battles Wisely
Not every hill is worth dying for.
I’ve witnessed many a person die on a hill they should have gone around.
Eye Contact = Trust
“If someone won’t look me in the eyes, I don’t trust them.”
This one came from a veteran purchasing guy I called on ~20 years ago when I spent some time in sales. It always stuck with me, and I’ve found it to be remarkably accurate. Since he’s passed away, I’ll give him credit. His name was Fred Benedict, and he worked for Carrier Corporation in Syracuse, NY. He made that comment to me when I told him I was being promoted to a new position. He complimented me on always looking him in the eyes, and then made that quote. I wrote it down as soon as I got in the parking lot.
He was a legend.
The Pricks Eventually Get Found Out
Apologies for the language, but it’s straight from the secret journal. It’s amazed me over the years how often this plays out. If you’re dealing with a real “prick”, be patient. They won’t be around for long (though, frustratingly, they’re often around much longer than you’d prefer). I always smile when they get “found out”, and think of this lesson from my secret journal.
FYI, no specific individual taught me this lesson. It was learned by decades of personal observation.
Control The Inputs
While you’re held accountable for the outputs, that’s not where your focus should be. Focus on the inputs. If you do a good job managing those, the outputs will follow.
From a guy who rose through the ranks to be President of North America, then retired early to a very nice house on a lake in South Carolina. Working for him on the North American Management Team was one of the more enjoyable spans of my career.
Be The Calm In The Storm
As you rise into management, focus on being the calm in the storm. Even if you’re tied up in knots inside, demonstrate decisive calm on the exterior. Go to bat for your employees, and shield them from as much of the “Corporate BS” as possible.
You Get Out Of Others What You Put Into Them
Build others up, don’t tear them down. Encourage others to accept the credit they’re due for the things they’ve done. Mentor and teach those who are “below” you. What you put in as an investment in others will pay back dividends for years. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Respect In, Respect Out.
From an “old salt” who made the comment when I was a new Plant Manager. I always appreciated “the veteran” helping out “the rookie”.
Three Things We All Have: Time – Energy – Money
- When We’re Young = We have Time & Energy, but no Money
- In The Middle of Life = We have Energy & Money, but no Time
- When We’re Old = We have Time & Money, but no Energy
Told to me by a close friend when he was “mid-career”, and decided to leave a very prestigious position to have a go at being a solo entrepreneur. He wanted more time with his family. Fortunately, it worked out well for him, and he’s now making more money running his own gig than he made in his previous “prestigious position”. He also has more time for his family. I’m happy for him.
Know What To Know
“Some folks know business, some folks know THE business. Few know both, and the ones that do are the stars.”
From a very senior leader who once gave me his treadmill when he moved. I always respected you, Brian. I hope you read this post.
Don’t Blame The Boss
Don’t blame your boss for something you’re asking your employees to do. It diminishes your authority and the respect your employees have for you. Take personal responsibility for what you’re being paid to do.
Take Time To Smell The Roses
After my retirement speech, I wrote a post in July which shared a few of the lessons from my secret journal. In A Man In A Kilt, I wrote about Curtis Hixon, a man I greatly admire. He’s made a big impact on my life, and I share again, in closing, the three lessons he demonstrated during the four years I was honored to work for him:
– Take time to smell the roses.
– Keep your job in perspective.
– Treasure your family.
I worked for Curtis from 1988-1992, and his were the first lessons I entered into my Secret Journal. Given that they were the first, it somehow seems appropriate that today I present them last. Thanks for your friendship, Curtis.
My Secret Journal, Revealed.
I never knew if this day would come, but I’m glad it has arrived.
I hope you benefit as a result.
Your Turn: Which lessons most resonated with you? What lessons have you learned that I should add to this post? Have you ever kept a secret journal? Let’s chat in the comments…