The Real Meaning of Work Ethic
How often have you observed a person at work who seems to be indifferent to the job they are doing? Is it because they wish they were somewhere else? Or doing something else? Or unhappy that whatever job they are doing was assigned to them and they are way too important for this stuff? The vibe is pretty universal and if you are the owner, or the boss, or both, watching this type of person slowly kill your product can be maddening. If its your store, you can send them packing. If its someone on your team and you take the King’s shilling, you spend a lot of time thinking about when you were choosing that last guy for your sandlot team – namely, lets put this dude in right field and try to limit the damage.
Bringing this back around to a little more inward perspective, think back about times you weren’t the most motivated about a task, or a job, or an assignment. Is there a difference in how invested you are in the end product of your efforts if you would rather be elsewhere, doing something else, with someone else? Let’s take the lens in a little tighter. Have you found yourself in front of a group with the power to make decisions explaining how if they give you a chance, you’d be all in for this opportunity/promotion? Does the conversation go a little like “If you give me this shot, I will…..”?
Assuming the decision makers are enlightened leaders hip to the ways of the salesman, let me tell you what it looks like from the other side of the table. What you have just said, is that there are certain parameters or conditions that must be met before you are going to give something your best shot. And, that you’ll be in charge of making that decision, thank you very much and you’ll let everyone know when you get there.
One definition I am fond of using to describe ethics is “what we do when no one is looking and no one is likely to find out”. To take that to the logical place about the situation I just described, “work ethic” is defined by the leader as “the type of commitment I give to a job regardless of whether I like it or not”. Think about it for a minute – most of us don’t have the opportunity to have a publicist or PR company following us around to explain away our mistakes, or blitz advertise the type of product we want people to think they are getting when we are on the job. The one single thing you can have absolute control over in your life is your brand. That brand can be something that gives people confidence in your product, a constant example of what you will give every time out, and a living bullet list of accomplishment that needs no explanation. And from my perspective, nothing excites a leader more than having someone on the team who can be counted on to give 100% on every play, every pitch, and never ever take a play off. And no one is responsible for building your brand except you.
Hating your job is a legitimate emotion. Whether by fate or choice, we sometimes end up in a place we would rather not be, doing a job we’d rather not do. I have been there. Early in my life when I was trying to get my foot in the door in the field I aspired to, the best I could do was take a part-time position, which didn’t pay all of the rent. I ended up driving a forklift fulltime, which in hindsight was a noble profession and worthy of my best efforts, albeit not my desired career path. That was the first time I wrestled with the conflict between my internal work ethic values, and a situation in which I didn’t want to be. A wiser one than I at the time reminded me that I could either make this job an entry on a future application something I would need to explain or something to which I could draw attention.
Giving your best is learned behavior, that done time and time again becomes a habit rather than a choice. We have talked about a lot of behaviors on this site and most of them are habits that can be developed over time if you didn’t initially bring them to the table. Punctuality, efficiency, being organized, accuracy, speed, diligence, initiative, honesty, appearance. All of these are things that are your brand and potential outcomes your team and your leader can expect when you are on the job. Professional leaders understand that they often don’t get to pick the job or the team they will lead. However, they carry with them an expectation that regardless of the task, they will lead the team to success and they communicate that in every thing they do. And that guy in right field? Leaders live to eventually bring that guy to the plate with the game on the line.