Tag Archives: professionalism

The Example – The Garage Guy

Never assume.  Like all cliches, it is all too true.

Originally it was “Pride, Professionalism and the Shoe Shine Guy“.  Those special, random few who teach us so very much about life and business.  Sure, there are the obvious role models and examples, the speakers, the leaders of industry, the thought leaders everyone has heard, but then there are the folks that are right there, living the day-to-day grind, that are possibly the greatest teachers.  Several years back there was “The Shoe Shine Guy”, and now to that special list I am proud to add “The Parking Garage Guy”.

We all have known those folks, we see them almost every working day, year after year, toiling away in anonymity.  Sometimes we are fortunate enough to slowly build a bit of a passing relationship, a morning greeting, a smile, holiday wishes, and maybe even a quick chat from time-to-time.  And then every so often, a little nugget of information slips out that slowly starts to reveal there is a special person sitting in that security booth.  It took years, and finally his sharing that he was retiring at 81 (stunning…would have maybe guessed 65…maybe) to finally bring the entire story, all the lessons, into sharp focus.

To know Amha is to know a true professional.  He was always present.  He took pride in his work.  He ran a tight ship.  He knew who was where, in what car, where the good spots were, who might need a different spot and why.  That garage was his domain, and nothing got by him.  He was sharp, smart, respectful, polite, kind, but also no nonsense.  It took a couple years to realize what was there every morning, the lessons that were being shared.

Amha is the classic American story.  He came to this country almost 20 years ago from a “rougher” part of the world.  I knew the neighborhood he and his family had left, I suspected why, and it was sort of our “secret”.   I had traveled in those parts of the world in the early 90’s – it was not a good area or time.  Always liked to think that he enjoyed the fact that there was someone here that just knew “where there was”.  The other day as he shared the news of his retirement, he also shared more of the story.  He confessed that after not being well received here as an engineer in his early 60’s who wanted to work, he elected to not just ride out his years on the couch.  He chose to become a parking garage attendant.  An Electrical Engineer who had already had an incredible career, was a man of means in another part of the world, willfully and apparently happily, took on a thankless, anonymous job.  It all clicked into place when he shared the full story.

Professionalism and pride do not stem from a title.  They are not contingent upon a level of authority, a scope of responsibility, the number of people led, the industry, the company name, level of education, or even the actual work.  Everything and anything can be a profession.  Being a professional is a state of mind, it is entirely our choice.  Pride and professionalism comes from within and it is absolutely our responsibility to carry ourselves as such in all facets of life and business.

Pride and professional do not preclude being nice.  That was the real lesson that did not fully register until yesterday.  Genuine kindness.  Doing the little something extra for someone.  A greeting.  A smile.  Being present.  Lending a hand without being asked.  But above all, referring to someone as “my friend”.  It seems so obvious, but it is so often forgotten.  You see both the Shoe Shine Guy and the Garage Guy – they were nice people.  They were good people.  They work hard, they take pride in their work; their profession.  But they glowed, absolutely glowed, when they spoke of their family and friends.

And with the kindness, the pride and professionalism, went gratitude.  Being grateful for the opportunity to work, the place you live, the opportunity to help others, to build relationships, to be a friend.  We owe it to ourselves, our families, our friends, to our clients and our co-workers, and to the Garage and Shoe Shine folks, to try just a bit harder, to be just a touch more professional, kind and grateful.

 

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On Being a Professional – Derek Jeter

Team Captain of the New York Yankees. There are a lot of high-profile jobs in this world, and all come with a healthy degree of stress, but there are very few that are 100% in the public eye and in the media capital of the world. Derek Jeter filled one such role for 11 years, taking on the job at the ripe old age of 29. Of all that he accomplished throughout the course of his career, the most impressive thing just might be his reputation as the consummate professional.

Derek Jeter worked for the same company his entire career.  He was drafted out of high school by the Yankees, came up through their minor league system, and played 20 years in the Bronx.  Along the way he was part of 5 World Series Championships, won multiple MVP’s and is the all-time Yankee leader in hits, games played, and several other categories.  More astonishing is what he has not done.  He has not been arrested, involved in sordid stories and controversy, contract disputes, discipline problems or locker room dramas.  He even changed positions to allow Alex Rodriquez to play for the Yankees!  He is universally praised by teammates, management, competitors and coaches for his work ethic, committment and leadership.  Interesting, all that he has done, all that he has been, and all that he has not been are the very things that constitute “professional”.

As part of the All Star game tonight, there is a new commercial by Nike entitled RE2PECT.  It is an amazing piece of advertising, as well as a genuine chapeau to one of the greats of the game.  Leave it to Nike to capture such a moment:

Interesting that the commercial is part of the Jordan brand with Nike, and that both MJ himself and Tiger Woods make an appearance. While obviously both are Nike athletes, both too were also once the best at their profession and widely respected. However, time has shown some of the warts that come with MJ and Tiger. Let’s just hope the Derek Jeter we have seen the last 20 years remains the Derek Jeter we see well into the future.

Being a professional is both a state of mind and a state of being.  Derek Jeter has done a remarkable job at being one of the best both on an off the field.  His level of achievement has been a result of hard work; he puts in the hours.  It has been a part of who Derek Jeter was, where he came from and the person he was and is at the core.  It has also been a result of how he carries himself and the pride he takes in being a Yankee.  Derek Jeter has always acted like a professional.

 

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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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