The second time you die

There is a Jewish saying that goes something like you die twice – the second time you die is when your name isn’t spoken anymore. In other words, when the last person who knew who you were passes on, your name will die with them.

This saying shows how short a time we are on this earth. So, we better make the best of it. I have long told my children what I learned. Your name is the most important asset you have. When people hear your name, what do you want them to think?

Would it be she was a real a person? He would give the shirt off his back. Or, would it be, I never trusted him. She was selfish and mean-spirited. Knowing we cannot please everyone, we can strive to be the best version of ourselves. We can endeavor to be kind, fair, honest, hardworking, etc. and when we fall short, we can acknowledge that we have and make amends.

Even if we are not effusive or outgoing, we can still represent ourselves well. More often, it is the folks who do not draw attention to themselves that do the heavy lifting and show up everyday on time. As I have been around the block a few times, I have observed that a person’s true value is often uncorrelated with how much they beat on their chests. The louder the false bravado, the more dubious I become about the boasting.

My step-grandfather was the only grandfather I really knew. My mother’s mother divorced her first husband as he was a “rolling stone” as The Temptations used to sing about. Ironically, my blood line grandfather’s brother, was one of the finest of men and he and my step-grandfather would fish together. Neither of these fishermen were boastful. They were hard working men, who spoke little, but when they spoke, you listened.*

I remember my step-grandfather as he was a very generous and genteel man. He was a builder, a master bricklayer which left his hands quite rough. Fishermen and women know that you need to be careful handling catfish, as their fins can slice your hands. My grandfather’s hands were so rough, he could simply grab a catfish, unhook it and throw it into the bin. I also recall a day when five us caught about one hundred fifty fish. My grandfather caught over half of them but he never said a word as he would reel them in.

False bravado is not a term one would use to define my step-grandfather. But, he is remembered well. And, he is remembered in the manner in which I would like to be.

*Note: My bloodline grandfather’s brother married one of my grandmother’s older sisters. So, two brothers married two sisters. Yet, the irony of my grandmother’s second husband being a fishing buddy of the brother of her first husband is interesting. The other less ironic note, is both sisters were gregarious characters, who married and settled down with quiet men.

Invisibles: People who don’t pat themselves on the back (a reprise)

A few years ago, David Zweig was interviewed about his book called “Invisibles – The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-promotion.” The book is a fascinating read which explores the success of those who show up to work each day, do their job well and collaborate with others toward common goals. These folks do not seek the limelight and are definitely not about merchandising themselves. And, each has a very rewarding career doing a job well and sharing the success with others. I was thinking of this book as I read about the courageous and quiet healthcare and retail workers who are doing their jobs in more dire situations.

In my over thirty-three years of working as a consultant, teammate, employee and, at times, manager of people, one observation seems to ring true – “work will find good people.” These are the folks who don’t talk about getting it done, they work with others to get it done. In any business, we find people who are over-committing and routinely missing deadlines or producing less than quality deliverables. We will also find people who talk about good ideas, but fewer people who get up out of their chair and go do something.

The invisible people need not be the “stars” of the team. Sometimes their strength is project or process management competence. They are the machine that gets work product done. In other words, they do the basic blocking and tackling that does not make the headlines. A successful football team is more due to those guards and tackles who make way for the stars.

A business is no different. And, many may not do their job exceedingly well, but do it well-enough, and show up each day to do it again. These are those solid C+ and B- performers that every organization needs to be successful. They have an intrinsic knowledge of how to do things within that organization. If leaders do not heed their value and input, they will not be as successful or may fail.

I had an old management professor who advised his son on how to be successful, advice which I share with others. If you do these three simple things, you will have some success. “Show up, show up on time and show up dressed to play.” It matters not the underlying business or work group. If you are not there, others have to pick up the slack. If you are constantly late, others have to pick up the slack. If you are not there wearing clothes to present yourself as expected to your colleagues and clients or dressed with the right attitude, others will have to pick up the slack. Then, an invisible person becomes visible and management will realize they can do their job without you.

The lesson of the book is a good one. You do not have to merchandise yourself to be successful. Competence is a terrific aphrodisiac to an employer. I often help people network as it is my way of paying it forward. I was helping someone I know well get a job and she is all about competence, efficiency, teaming and effectiveness. She is not as good at merchandising and your first impression would be not to hire her. I used to tell prospective employers, she may not be the one you propose to, but she is the one you want to be married to. She understands strategy, tactics and execution and that is a powerful combination.

Let me close with some observations on what to avoid. If you hear someone say he/ she is a “big picture” person, don’t hire them. If you hear someone use far too many “I’s and me’s” and not many “we’s and us’s” don’t hire them. If someone “throws people under the bus” more than accepting responsibility, don’t hire them. I recognize fully the need to have people who can sell services and merchandise themselves. But, the merchandisers I would prefer to work with know that it is a team of others who back up their commitments. Many of them are in this group called “invisibles.”