The Best Advice

Published February 2010

I recently accepted an invitation to speak to the Multi-Occupations Cooperative (MOC) class at Ames High School. MOC is a class targeted for fourth-year students that emphasizes practical life skills including resume writing, job interviewing, personal finance, insurance and many others.

The class also exposes students to a number of local business people, especially entrepreneurs, who encourage students to consider a range of careers via relating stories of their own varied paths. The combination of presenting useful life skills and planting the seeds of entrepreneurism is one important way in which the high school is helping to grow the next generation of competitive workers and business leaders for Iowa.

The format of the class is rather informal with the guest typically providing a little background information about themselves and their business and the students then asking questions. In preparation, speakers are presented with a list of typical questions a week or so prior to their scheduled appearance. As I scanned the list of questions, most appeared to be of the nature that I could easily answer on the spot:

  • What do you look for in an employee?
  • Whatís the best and worst thing about your job?
  • What did you think you wanted to be when you were in high school? (Answer: a Major League Baseball player until I hit .222 my Senior season; Ouch!)

Then a question caught my eye that I had to think long and hard about. ďWhatís the best piece of advice you have ever received?Ē

My answer took me back over two decades. Although I didnít realize it at the time, I was on the management fast track early in my career. One day a senior manager known for his rather gruff exterior called me into his office and informed me that the company wanted to transfer me and my young family to another state to manage a factory. This was a rather large (and scary) leap for someone who had only worked in a sterile engineering department up to that point.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I learned that the gruff manager had a soft side as he coached me through my concerns. He patiently walked me through every line of the companyís financial statements until I could explain each back to him. He assured me that the company wouldnít put me in a situation where I couldnít be successful. In short, he prepared me for the challenge both mentally and emotionally.

I finally accepted the offer and was preparing to leave on my adventure when he called me into his office one last time. ďIíve got one other thing I want you to do before leaving,Ē he informed me. ďIíve seen people lose themselves as they rise through an organization. I want you to spend some time by yourself and write down your values, what you stand for. Then put that list somewhere where you can find it!Ē

I followed his advice and created the following list:

  • Never compromise moral or ethical standards for the sake of profit ... Be honest!
  • Be a husband and a father first
  • Donít worry about compensation; do a good job and it will take care of itself
  • Be fair to yourself; take time off and do things you enjoy
  • Face difficult situations first and head-on
  • Tell people when they do a good job
  • Help make team members promotable
  • Keep in touch with the people who do the real work
  • Keep in touch with customers
  • Give subordinates advice on decisions when appropriate; once made, support their decision

My list has stood up well over the course of time with only minor tweaks. As my mentor predicted, Iíve referred to my list multiple times over the course of my career, including when I decided I couldnít climb any higher on the management ladder and remain happy.

So there it is, the best advice Iíve received. If you donít already have such as list, I suggest you create one. Hopefully someday youíll agree it was time well spent and will pass that advice on to the next generation of leaders.

Back to the Working Great! archives

Check out the Working Great! archives for columns on other pertinent business issues

Copyright 2009 Brimeyer LLC. All Rights Reserved.