I’m from the south side of Chicago and was the first in my family to earn a college degree. Upon graduation, I was hired by the McDonald’s Corp., whose fundamental management philosophy is that to make good corporate decisions, you must know what it’s like to run every aspect of a McDonald’s restaurant. So with diploma in hand, I went to work behind the counter, and that experience has forever shaped my approach to work.
In my current role as group president of Randstad Staffing, I no longer hang orders or clean the deep fryer, but I know this: Nothing affords a leader the ability to make good decisions the way that walking a mile in someone else’s shoes does.
In the strictest sense, my career has been built on finding work for other people. But in the broader sense, it’s the stories, ambitions and challenges of the people for whom I’ve found work and have had the pleasure of working with — at all levels of the organization — that have been the basis of my career.
In addition to finding great value in walking in someone else’s shoes, below are a few things that I’ve learned over the course of my career, and which I’ve found to be true:
- Cream rises to the top. If you simply focus on doing your job really well and with integrity, opportunity will find you. Over the years, I’ve learned to quickly spot the shiny pennies that tend to “peacock” their way through a company, but in the end, it all plays out. Those who work hard and stay out of office politics never have to worry if they’ve made the right decision and usually rise above the peacocks. In the end, simply producing high quality work and doing the right thing is good for your career.
- Do what’s best for the company vs. what’s best for you, and you’ll be paid in spades. This advice can be hard to believe until you experience it first-hand. People who take the “what’s in it for me” approach often struggle in their careers, as an inward perspective clouds decision-making and makes it harder to do the right thing. I’ve been a salesperson for much of my career and have had opportunities to close deals that would benefit me in the short run but not the company in the long run. Walking away from a lucrative near-term outcome can be very difficult — but by focusing on how your actions affect the larger organization, the right decision usually rises above the noise. And in the end, you’ll reap the rewards that come with a longer-term perspective.
- Becoming successful is easy. Staying successful is hard. This adage reminds me of dieting. Dieting is easy, but making lifestyle choices to impact your overall well-being is much more challenging. Over the years I’ve witnessed that those people who truly value well-rounded achievement make the life choice to consciously and continuously foster success. Even after they’ve attained “success,” they pursue new challenges and remain open to constructive feedback. They are adaptable and understand that the only constant is change. And not surprising, their definition of success usually changes over time in concert with their work and life experiences.
- You get what you give. For me, this makes doing the right thing easy. When I’m distracted by seemingly difficult options, time pressures or even something as intangible as hearsay, I find it helpful to pause and consider both the cause and effects of my thoughts, words and action. Put another way, the idea that what comes around goes around is a simple yet powerful guide post for making career-related decisions.
- Do your job, produce better-than-expected results and success will follow. Of all the lessons, this one sums up a straightforward, effective approach that’s hard to argue. Time and again I’ve seen that those who focus on the tasks at hand and steer clear of nonessential, distracting activity are the ones most likely to build a strong, successful, long-term career.
I believe professional success is largely attained by keeping the decks clear of distractions and focusing on what will benefit the overall enterprise, which includes those at both the front counter and the executive office. Essentially my guiding principle is this: Just go to work, keep it simple and do the right thing. So far, it’s worked for me.