Part 1: Work Ethic
Perhaps one of the first and most crucial lessons I learned about hard work came from my Dad. He worked in construction most of my growing up years and occasionally he would have us kids come out and help him on a job site—hauling water, handing him tools, carrying lumber etc.
Well, he always told us that an invaluable skill in work is to anticipate needs. Don’t just do what you are assigned. Understand how it fits into the whole, anticipate future steps and requirements, and don’t be the person who needs to be told what to do next. Figure it out and do it. Now this phrase generally applied to a situation where we were at a construction site and he wanted me to observe what he was doing, come to understand the bigger picture, and then act without him needing to check on my work or remind me what was required. It helped the job run more smoothly, and helped both of us finish faster.
The other thing he and my mom told us kids—and I’m sure I’m not the only kid who heard this growing up!—was that ‘a job worth doing was worth doing right.’ That old adage is around because it’s very good advice.
These two things have stuck with me all these years and remind me constantly of what kind of worker I want to be—whether it was the six months I work in cleaning up bathrooms and scrubbing down an industrial kitchen, the five years as a linguist in the Marine Corps, or the five semesters I spent working for my bachelor’s degree.
Of course it seems so simple. So obvious. But the true things are often simple and remain difficult to achieve. Good work is hard work. Always.
I see these two good old-fashioned work ethic principles as very foundational…and they really go hand-in-hand. A lot of things that lectures and articles on leadership and work ethic discuss—integrity, responsibility, team work, “emphasis on quality”—come down to these two principles.
Principle 1: Anticipating needs. If you strive to always see more than your own small purview of a job—strive to see what is needed in the long run—you will always be one step ahead. You will hone your skills of analysis, and you will not only understand what you need to get your job done, but what others need as well. This skill helps cultivate the foresight needed for leadership, and the broad perspective that promotes good teamwork.
Principle 2: A job worth doing is worth doing right. This is about quality. Sometimes it is easy to see a small or menial task and dismiss it as not worth the full effort. I recall when I was young and I had done my chore—the dishes—and then was chastised for not having done them well. I hadn’t wiped down the counters or cleaned out the remnants in the sink. My mom gave me a proper talking-to about not being lazy and I took it to heart. Doing a small, seemingly petty task with all my heart would teach me how to apply that same effort to everything. It creates a habit of demanding high quality of yourself, no matter the task.
Because we don’t always start out doing what we love. Sometimes we start from scratch. And these two principles are excellent ingredients for making something wonderful!
What are some work ethic principles that you learned when you were young that impacted how you work and lead today?
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