The Advantage Letter by Dave Martin
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Friday, March 01, 2013
Volume 18 | # 427
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Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery. » Dr. Joyce Brothers

Something in the Air

Each year, few places I frequent generate as many spirit-killing, energy-sapping, soul-crushing (Am I making my point?) experiences as airports.

It’s hard to think of many places in which so many people put their dignity on hold. Line up here. Stand there. Empty every piece of lint from your pockets.

Take off your jacket. Stand in this tube so government employees can see you naked.

And that’s just to get the right to squeeze into metal tubes with semi-weekly-wiped armrests and meal trays.

Needless to say, my expectations are not exactly high each week as I go through this process again and again and again. And then last week, something crazy happened.

As I approached the see-you-nude-atron, the TSA agent on the other side said, “Good Morning, Sir! Please (She said please!) place your feet on the outlines there and your hands above your head. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.”

As I followed instructions, she again said, “Thank you, sir.” And it didn’t even sound TSA’ish.

While I stood there for a few seconds waiting to be cleared, she said, “I hope you have a safe flight and a great day.” I’d like to review their security tape to see if my jaw actually dropped.

I told her “You too!” in a manner that even convinced me that I meant it. I skipped my customary grumbling and pox-issuing as I redressed on a nearby bench.

When an elderly worker at an airport sundries shop then greeted me as “young man” and pulled me into a nice conversation by asking (in a naturally friendly manner), “How’s your day going so far?”, I felt like I was in Mayberry International Airport.

When a young lady at the food court smiled, called me “Sir” twice and asked how my day was going, I wanted to find airport management. Surely, this could be no accident.

Three positive interactions in a row with airport employees is like witnessing a solar eclipse while watching Bigfoot chase the Loch Ness monster on a jet ski.  It’s, uh… not common.

I almost never fly out of Houston’s Hobby Airport and had mixed opinions of it before. But I found myself thinking, “I need to fly from here more.”

It had nothing to do with the facilities (which are pretty basic) and everything to do with simple human pleasantries.

The world around us is often pretty cold, indifferent, and impersonal.

When it isn’t, that impression can be powerful stuff.

Will you impress anyone around you today?

Management Theory

One of my favorite topics to close many presentations with is the importance of not allowing others to determine our destinies.

The world is full of “experts” willing to judge you at a glance and define who you are, what you are, and where you belong.

Too many folks seem more than willing to accept the limited prospects others place on them. But history is full of instances of those who achieve greatness only after choosing to ignore the experts.

One of my favorite examples to use is Albert Einstein. I’ve told the story for years of how he was turned down by every university he attempted to find employment with after his graduation.

He found himself at the age of 26, working six days a week as a 3rd class examiner at the Swiss patent office.

From that lowly position, he produced four papers in 1905, his “miracle year,” that changed the field of physics and, arguably, human history itself.

I’ve used an expanded telling of that story for years to help make my point about not allowing others to define us, as well as being careful not to limit the hopes and dreams of others when we find ourselves in the roles of the “experts.”

Then, while watching a two-hour History Channel special on Einstein recently, one of the scientists interviewed made a comment that had me chuckling out loud in my chair. It’s a point that made total sense to me that I had never considered.

Sure, it was shocking to many that a lowly patent clerk came up with these incredible works. However, it’s unlikely Einstein would have been able to put those amazing pieces of work together at that time had he actually been hired on to the faculty somewhere.

When you’re new to a university, your days are spent sucking-up to the tenured faculty.

Einstein’s time and energy would have been tied-up massaging the egos of senior faculty instead of in, oh, changing how mankind understands the universe.

(Having worked 3 years in a research facility in my post-college years, I can testify to that.)

The lesson here isn’t for those “reporting up” to others. Folks do what they have to do to get by.

But, as managers, how much of our people’s time do we make them spend, well… placating us?

There is a relative universe of difference between high-expectations managers and high-maintenance ones.

And your team doesn’t need to be a bunch of Einsteins to grasp which one you’re choosing to be.

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. » Albert Einstein

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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