Tag Archives: hiring profiles

Pride, Professionalism and the Shoe Shine Guy

It really is amazing what we can learn from the people around us. From those close to us, those who teach, mentor and mold us. From family and friends, associates and co-workers, supervisors and subordinates, peers and colleagues. And yes, sometimes from those random strangers who briefly pass through our life and leave us better for the time and wisdom they shared.  Met a guy the other day who did just that…it was 15 minutes of wisdom and the reminder of fundamentals I needed to hear.

Though I am a pretty loyal DIY sort, one thing on which I do splurge is a shoe shine.  If there are two things I took from my Naval Service, it is a strong aversion to cruise ships and a healthy bias against shining my own dress shoes.  I do shine my shoes, but I know a professional blows away my feeble skills.  While between meetings, I spied the shoe shine stand and decided to stroll by.  I was a potential customer, but I was not necessarily going specifically to get a shine.  I would see what happened.

What happened was I got one heck of a shoe shine and one hell of a reminder of what really matters in business and in life.  All this from a 15 minute chat with the shoe shine guy.  What seemed to be general banter was really great insight and wisdom.

Here are a few things the shoe shine guy taught me about business:

1 – Ask for the Business.  He asked for my business.  He saw me in a suit, with shoes that needed attention.  I was a potential client.  He made the pitch.  Business 101…cannot make a sale without asking the question.

1A – Identify the need…to the client.  He saw my shoes needed attention and he pointed it out to me.  Did I want to hear the message – no.  I did however need to hear the message.  I had a deficiency that needed addressed.

2 – The initial “no” might not be the final answer.  He acknowledged my decline of service, but then he politely reminded me again that in fact I had a need that should be addressed.  No one likes to hear bad news, but sometimes we have to hear it.

3 – Close the deal.  Gaining interest is not closing the deal.  He ensured I did not slip away.  He quickly and skillfully built what we had rapidly established:  an identified need and the prospects acknowledgement that the need requied action.  He then gained my committment to buy.

4 – Service after the sale.  Not only did he do good work, he did it with pride and enthusiasm.  He made me feel special, as if I was the only reason his business existed.

Then there were the Life Lessons courtesy of the shoe shine guy:

1 – The Little Things Matter.  It is the little things that set us apart.  They are the differentiator.

2 – Attention to Detail…it tells you a lot about a person.

3 – Take Care of Things…they last longer.

4 – Appearances Matter.  It is not about being attractive, it is about wearing clean clothes, brushing your teeth, combing your hair and yes, shining your shoes.

5 – Values.  People will spend hundreds if not thousands on suits and ties, time pieces and jewelry yet will not take the time to polish their shoes?  As the man said, “what are they thinking?  If I notice it, what do their clients think?  Their boss?”  Guy was right.

I failed to get the gentleman’s name, but I will never forget him.  What really stuck with me is that he was not particularly old.  Actually he was 34, married with a young daughter.  He was clearly proud of his family and is striving to provide for them on a material level.  Shining shoes is a tough way to make a go of things.  Especially so in a city like Chicago.  However tight it might be for them on the material front, I am absolutely positive his family has an abundance of wisdom, pride and love.

Though he taught me so much, it was the fundamentals that really linger.  Strip all the above away, and the man was nice, warm and engaging.  On the business front, he was a professional.  He took pride in his work and he treated his craft, his clients and himself with respect and dignity.  I saw a ton of business people around me those two days in Chicago, most of whom I am sure are making much more than the guy at the shoe shine stand.  However, precious few were as polished and professional, or took the pride in their work, as the guy working the shoe shine stand at the Palmer House.

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Hiring and Retaining Leaders – The Ultimate Example

Imagine if you will – the most succesful single company in an entire industry over the last 41 years.  And over that period the company has had exactly 3 leaders (the industry norm is to change leaders every 3 – 4 years).  All were recruited from outside the company, none had ever run a company before, all were under the age of 40, and none were “big names” in their profession.  Is that extreme luck or is that incredible wisdom and insight when it comes to hiring?

In the NFL’s “modern era” (since the AFL-NFL merged in 1970) the Pittsburgh Steelers have posted the best record in the league. The franchise has won the most total games, won the most divisional and conference titles, earned the best winning percentage (including every expansion team), earned the most All-Pro nominations, and have accumulated the most Super Bowl wins (six) since 1970.  And in that span they have had just 3 head coaches – Chuck Knoll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Rooney Family are the model for sourcing, hiring and retaining great leaders.  They find them young, they engender loyalty by giving the young leader “their chance” and then supporting them in the job, and they eliminate ambiguity when it comes to expectations.  Above all else, they hire with a very keen awareness of the organizations culture – the leader fits the organization.  And think about what the Rooney’s do not do…they do not over pay, they do not chase the “hot coach” and they do not overreact, in good times or bad.  Oh, and they win – a lot.

Imagine if you will, a business that sourced and hired based on culture and fit, skill and abilities. And then actually created win-win scenarios.  An environment of mutual respect, of open communications, and realistic expectations.  Think about it the next time you are “chasing the market” for talent, or debating the “easy hire”, the “proven commodity”.  Maybe it is time to stop playing musical chairs and hire based on talent and fit, not on titles and past performance.  Who knows, maybe you can help your business go on a nice 40+ year run.

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Filed under Coaching, Interviewing, leadership, Sports

The Student, The Grinder and The Natural

The Edge, Jack White, and Jimmy Page – the Student, the Grinder, and the Natural.  While watching the movie It Might Get Loud in which the 3 guitarist discuss the instrument and their experiences and techniques, the below clip is what stayed with me:

It is interesting, I keep thinking of those 3 as a textbook illustration of hiring in business.  The Edge is the classic technical/fundamental student of his craft.  Very gifted, but he is always working at it, studying and learning, using all of the latest technology and innovations.  Jack White is the grinder – able, but he makes it off of sheer force of will and effort.  Then there is Jimmy Page – an absolutely gifted genius in every respect.  He sees it, is a student of his craft, of its history, and simply  is just one of those special few that come along once in a very long while.

In the end it is all about fit – both for the candidate and the company.  What type of person – a student, a grinder or a natural is needed for the company and their role.  Conversely, a candidate must know what sort of person they are – a student, a grinder, or a natural and select the right roles and corporate cultures.  Typically any of the three are successful.  However, make no mistake, there are very few naturals out there – very few.  Just watch The Edge and Jack White – even the best know when they are in the presence of a natural – it is a special moment.

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