Fortune Magazine’s most recent issue challenged a wide variety of business and government leaders to share the The Best Advice I Ever Got. I think that’s a great challenge and encourage readers to share those that have been meaningful in their life.
One in particular always comes to mind for me. Back in the Stone Age during my formative years, the Chairman of the first company I joined in private industry was an irascible and tough disciplinarian. (A few years earlier, in boot camp, I think I saw his alter ego wearing a Smokey Bear hat.) Anyway, he summoned me into his office one day and asked me “What would you do if you didn’t get your check on payday?” Fortunately, before I fumbled around with something like “I dunno”, he answered his own question.
“I presume you would talk to your boss before you left for the day to find out where it is, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course,” I stumbled.
“And what if he said ‘I dunno’?” At first I thought he had heard my unstated answer to his first question, but then I realized he was looking for something more. Wisely – for once – I said nothing.
“I hope you’d go to your boss’ boss and ask the same question? And,” he continued, “I hope you’d make it all the way into my office if you needed to until you got your answer – AND got paid. That’s exactly what I expect you to do!”
I probably stammered something like “yes-sir”, hoping he would continue the story until I understood his point. And he did.
“For everything you do around here, I want you to have the same sense of urgency as if your paycheck was on the line. If you can’t get in the door, come in the window. If you can’t get through there, come down the chimney . . . but keep pushing until you get the results you require. Pursue everything with the same sense or urgency as you would if you didn’t get your paycheck.”
It turns out that was great advice. It taught me that there is no time like the present to tackle something and that some things can be done very quickly if you just “get to it”. I was never able to figure out if he believed I began to apply that lesson more diligently in the following days. Thereafter, he relied on me for more than he should have, I sometimes think, but I also know it was because I made sure that anything HE specifically asked me about, was the first thing on my list. He liked the quick results and rewarded me accordingly.
He’s gone now but I can feel him looking down occasionally with that wry smile on his face when I’ve done something with urgency. What would he be saying? In today’s vernacular, I’m pretty sure I know:
“Now, that’s what I’m talking about!”