Straight Talk for Youth Seeking to Thrive

If you are a young person seeking a job or a “better job” this article by Dennis Miller gives you some critical advice on the activities and attitudes that will allow you to get ahead in today’s world.

“The key to success is so simple. I can’t understand why more people don’t catch on. Working hard is only part of it. The key to success is responsibility. The more you have, the more successful you will become. All you have to do is do your job and watch your boss. You will quickly find there are parts of his job he either hates or does poorly. You will know what they are; listen to what he [complains about] in the lunchroom. Ask him about it, and volunteer to help. People normally won’t give you responsibility. You just take the job and start doing it, and soon the responsibility is yours.”

Joe, My Real American Hero

At one time in my life, I was fortunate enough to have a very interesting mentor named Joe. He was in his early thirties, with a track record the envy of men twice his age. When he was in high school, he got a part-time job at a corrugated-box plant. It was owned by a large chain with production facilities all over the country.

Joe started by sweeping floors after school. He was a likable young man sweeping floors in a heavily unionized shop, being paid by the hour. His general manager was named Rico, the son of an Italian immigrant.

Rico had a typical office for the time: a private door and large window so he could observe the production floor. Joe finished his sweeping and asked Rico if he wanted him to wash all the finger marks off his office windows. It wasn’t long before Joe was responsible for the floors, office windows, and many other special tasks that Rico assigned him.

When Joe got out of high school, he enrolled in a local junior college as a part-time student. Rico had used him for several fill-in jobs when they were behind schedule on production, so he was familiar with the plant operation. Soon he was the head of a small department running their smallest press.

Working with union labor, Joe increased production and quality on the oldest press in the building. That did not go unnoticed. Joe continued to take on more responsibility, and at the age of 21 he was promoted to assistant shift supervisor.

Rico justified the decision simply, “Look at his performance.” Joe exceeded expectations on every job he was given. He knew the business was very competitive. He understood that productivity, quality, and minimum waste were the key to profitability.

One of the jobs, generally described as a “huge pain,” was keeping track of time cards. The hours had to be verified, some administrative work needed to be done, and it was quite time consuming. Joe knew how much Rico hated that part of his job, so he suggested Rico teach him how to do it. In less than two months, the word was, “If you have a problem, Joe is in charge of the time cards.”

Soon they decided to add a second shift to their production line. Since Joe was now the assistant production manager on the day shift, he was promoted to production manager of the night shift. Their customers were demanding, and there were many short-run, technical, and tough jobs to run. Every time one of those tough jobs came in, Joe volunteered to produce it on the night shift. Within six months, the productivity and profitability of the night shift was better than the day shift’s.

Soon, Rico called Joe into his office and told him to have his replacement trained within the next month. Rico then promoted Joe to assistant plant manager of a facility employing over 200 people.

Joe was responsible for production, but he also decided to get involved with customers. He traveled with their sales team to visit some of their top customers, and soon the word was out: if a customer wanted a new box designed, he knew to call Joe. There was a good chance his team could produce it better and cheaper, which in turn would get them the order.

Their plant continued to thrive both on the production side and in the marketplace. When the US vice president of production retired, they had over 22 plant managers in the country to choose from. Rico got the job.

Who was Rico’s replacement? Joe, of course. Joe was the youngest plant manager in their entire company, still well before his 30th birthday.

Joe was also a terrific mentor at a time when I needed some direction. I asked him what the key to success was. His response surprised me:

“Denny, it is so simple. I can’t understand why more people don’t catch on. Working hard is only part of it. The key to success is responsibility. The more you have, the more successful you will become. All you have to do is do your job and watch your boss. You will quickly find there are parts of his job he either hates or does poorly. You will know what they are; listen to what he [complains about] in the lunchroom. Ask him about it, and volunteer to help. People normally won’t give you responsibility. You just take the job and start doing it, and soon the responsibility is yours.”

His next point was this. “Ask your boss how his performance is measured by his boss. Make those your goals as well. Find ways for him to achieve his goals and look good. The easiest way to get promoted is to get your boss promoted.”

I asked Joe about college. He flatly said, “I dropped out when I became the general manager of the plant. I had more important things to do.”

Many young folks may dismiss these lessons because they happened 50 years ago. They may say you can’t do those things today. I disagree. I think it’s easier today than it was in Joe’s generation. Here’s how to start.

Go to your personal trophy case and throw out all the awards you got for “participation.” Participating in life does not pay well, probably not nearly well enough to pay off your student loans. Second, forget your personal grade point average. If you have not figured it out, it does not appear on your diploma. And finally, if you think the Ricos of this world care about your GPA, you are sadly mistaken.

For those who are members of the “Just enough to get by” club, I did not just suggest a free pass; quite the contrary. The lessons you should be learning are how to do your best and thrive in a competitive environment.

Take a look at the large number of students who drop out of a business statistics class because it’s too hard or they don’t want to hurt their GPA. Rico wants the guy who took on the challenge, busted his butt, and maybe got a C.

There are many occupations that require a college degree and a government license. I had several consulting engineering firms as clients that built relationships with engineering professors and regularly recruited on college campuses. Their common complaint was that the professors were always touting the engineer with the highest GPA. They didn’t understand that the ideal candidate was an engineer who may have had to work his way through college with a part-time job, made time for student activities, and still found a way to do a good job in the classroom.

Once you have thrown away all your participation medals, what is left? Hopefully you have several that say first place, second place, and third place.  It makes no difference if those awards were for athletics, band competition, or the debate team. Those are the important ones.

Life is a competition, and if you want to be successful, you have to achieve, not merely participate. Un-learn all the “fairness” garbage educators tried to force into your brain. The good news is, most of your peer group believes that stuff too.

When Joe started, his competition was WWII and Korean War veterans, and they knew the game. He believed in treating people fairly, but to succeed in business, you must be better than your competition. Understand it, accept it, and get to work. [Go to Page 2]

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