What is the right attitude to take at work?

Do what you need to do, and do it well.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, apparently. Let’s talk about some of the values I’ve learnt to appreciate over the years of work.

First off, I’d like to thank a friend and mentor who hammered this philosophy into my thick skull. Eleven years on, and I’m still proud to say his words have done the most good in my professional life by far. Once again, thank you to Neo Chee Beng, without whom my life would’ve likely taken an entirely different road.


Let’s start off with responsibility. That means taking ownership of your assigned task. You’re in charge, it’s all yours, and it’s definitely all on you to make it work. It’s not an opportunity to palm it off to someone else and claim credit after. It’s up to you to give it your very best shot, and show others what you’re capable of.

Your very best shot.

Always focus on what can be done, don’t give excuses. No one likes excuses, and neither do you. Talk about what can be done. Look forward, stay positive.

Find out what needs to be done, break it up into smaller, achieveable goals. It’s all about working out each successive detail properly. Concentrate on getting the little things done, and before you know it? Mission accomplished.

If you’re not sure, is there any way you can do a quick read and learn? Anyone to ask for advice? Always do what you can to figure things out, before reaching out.

It’s all about attitude. How badly do you want to see it done? Try all ways and means to reach the goal.

What if you need something from someone else?
Eyes on the prize, stay focused and get what you need. Keep pushing (nicely, this means not sounding like a condescending bully), and never let it drop off the radar.

Be realistic, understanding and professional. Be realistic about what you are asking for. Understand the situation of others, and be professional in the way you ask. Make sure it’s understood that you’re just trying to get things done, not just because.

If you are getting delays because of procrastination from others, try another tack. Should you be asking someone else in another department for help instead? Is there another pathway you can try? Anywhere else that this question could be escalated to? Be polite, but firm.

For example, start the discussion off with the objective.
“I’m really sorry to keep pushing, but this really needs to be done.”

Move on with some suggested alternatives.
Could someone else be the answer?
“Is there someone else I should be checking with instead?”

Would a face-up meeting work things out better?
“Could we arrange for a time to sit down together and talk this over?”

Give everyone some space to work this through.
“Would you prefer I check back at an agreed time later?”

Is there another obstacle you weren’t aware of?
“Is there something else you’re waiting on?”

Most importantly, offer help!
“Is there anything I can do to help move this along?”

It’s important to keep this in mind: always be appreciative of the help others extend to you! Never take the goodwill of others for granted.


Time is of the essence.

Get your task done quick, more so if someone else is waiting on you to do their work. Don’t keep people waiting if you can help it.

Help others want to help you. Be honest and truthful in what you do (or did not do).

When you mess up, own up. It’s important to learn the power of a good apology, and no one exemplified this better than Dr Randy Pausch, who spoke about the three important parts of a good apology (among other things) in his last lecture titled “The Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”.

I’d recommend watching the entire lecture from Carnegie Mellon, but here’s a shortened version from the Oprah Show.

I’m sorry, it was my fault, how do I make it right?

If it’s your fault, admit it. Don’t get defensive and start spouting excuses. There’s nothing wrong in saying it’s your fault, especially if it really is. Make a proper apology, focus on what could’ve been done better, and promise to do it better.

None of us are perfect, and we all make mistakes. It’s been quoted often enough, that to err is human, to forgive, divine. Before forgiveness though, there has to be an honest admission, and the sincere desire to want to do better.

Take responsibility, have the right attitude, communicate, be appreciative. Be mindful of timing. And when things go wrong, don’t be afraid to apologise and promise to do better.

For what it’s worth, I’ve seen my own life unfold the right way more often than it should. Call it dumb luck, call it fate, but I believe the right attitude’s helped more times than I’ve realised.

“If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.”
– Dr Randy Pausch

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