I confess I am a digital hoarder. Mostly with photos, but there are files I refuse to part with that no longer have any relevancy in my current life. Old assignments from High School, receipts from University – it’s remarkable I am navigate the junkyard.
Occasionally in the piles of garbage, I find a treasure, as I did this week.
It’s a photo of me, rather angrily (or perhaps calculatingly) watching the CEO of McDonald’s answer questions. Another photo shows me standing, asking him where McDonald’s will position its operations and values in the wake of increasing environmental strain.
Stumbling upon mid-University me felt like studying a devolved Pokemon. The gap between what I knew then and what I know now is a vast canyon. My current abilities far exceed those of the person in that photo. This canyon will only grow, as my ignorance (or, more cheerily, my desire for learning) is never “complete”.
Reflecting back, there are 3 items that I could have instilled earlier because they require no special knowledge, training, or connections.
No one told me as a Bachelor of Commerce that humanity would be essential to “doing business”. Many would argue those are antithetical, though I shake that notion and press that we need more humanity in business.
In reaching for the next step, the three lessons below have been constant companions on my professional and personal journeys.
1. Be Curious about People.
All coworkers, clients, vendors, contractors, janitors, and baristas have a compelling story. We often don’t take the time or care to uncover it.
This is how I discovered the art of skydiving, the International Competition for Starbucks Baristas, and the magic of Bollywood movies.
It’s also how I received invites to tour NASA facilities, tickets to a Magic Show, and a seat at Thanksgiving dinners.
Being curious about people opens them up to you, and upon revealing their passions, you engender trust and acceptance in their openness. When a person trusts me with a part of themselves, I act as an archaeologist would upon excavating a fossil. Treat people with care, and they will return the favor.
2. Ask Why.
Oftentimes our job is tightly defined to be a specific task, report, or output. We are confined to provide a certain type of information within organizational or societal constraints.
And oftentimes, we go along with the flow. A lead-in task cannot until Monday night? Alright, I will stay up all night to finish my task by Tuesday morning. A certain boss is “always really prickly”? Alright, I will step on eggshells to avoid unintended repercussions.
A diligent order-taker is valuable but lacks imagination.
Progression has often involved being in weeds, not all the time, not indefinitely, but undeniably context matters. Maybe the certain boss is worried about losing their job given recent feedback and is distrustful of their staff. Maybe they recently lost a loved one. Maybe they are gunning for a promotion ahead of cycle. Any one of these human conditions could be assisted by a teammate who understood and could support the person. Context and details provide the coloring to prevent binary thinking.
This leads to my last tenet.
3. Be Earnest.
In the times I’ve struggled with earnestness, it was symptomatic of being in an ill-fitting job. While I loved babysitting, as a 16-year old I was unable to find fulfillment in that as a life-long pursuit.
My 8-year old coworkers were hard-to-please and sporadically illogical. Most nights I counted the hours until the parents were due home.
In this case, there was a disconnect between what I was doing and where I hoped to be. Pacifying screaming children did not attach to my long-term goals (which, at the time, were to simply raise a herd of horses in my backyard).
Repositioning my mind would have helped, babysitting offers lessons in patience and people management. I struggled to link my activities then to what I would eventually be doing now.
There are distinct benefits to being earnest. Relationships that are genuine are easier to decipher. Your intentions become clear, and exchanges are free of pretense. In a corporate world, fraught with political posturing, earnest interactions enable thoughtful criticism and better ideas.
We plot around people whose intentions are unclear. Erratic behavior compounds second guessing and scheming.
Simply said, when my boss and coworkers know my goals, we can work alongside eachother without skepticism.
In a fictionalized world, people steadfastly gravitate toward kindness and sincerity, but it takes contemplation to continually steer towards these uplifting attributes, knowing that people may just as easily be entranced by power and theatrics.
Working hard helps, working effectively helps, but at the end of the day, the appraisal of your character matters.
Your distinctive rallying cry should not be a part of yourself that is inauthentic, but instead, a part of yourself that seeks understanding.
Since standing in front of the CEO of the fast food chain, I’d share the recipe of this not-so-secret sauce. Businesses comprised of empathetic humans get more done.