Nearly 30 years ago I was sitting in a crowded conference room somewhere in Southeast Asia. The location is a bit blurred right now, but the advice shared lasted a lifetime.
I was at one of the fantastic annual Ogilvy Asia conferences where we would meet with colleagues from around the region, listen, learn and share the latest, greatest marketing and communications thinking to aid us in our work with our clients. Charlotte Beers, then global CEO of Ogilvy, was the featured guest.
I don’t remember much about what she presented, except how she ended. “Be Generous” she advised. “Be Generous with your people, with your clients, with your advice and with your family.” I do remember how I felt after her talk. I was a young manager at the time, and I wanted to put her advice into action right away. Since that day, I have tried to apply her counsel to everything I do. In sharing her lessons with colleagues, I have described this as practicing “selfish leadership.” I recommend they consider being generous in everything they do, and I promise them it will have reciprocal returns. I have found generosity breeds other generous acts, resulting in an overwhelmingly benevolent culture.
This blogpost evolved from a wonderful response I got years ago from a small booklet I published called, “So You Want to Work in PR?” The booklet was filled with advice from colleagues, clients and people I respected about entering a career in public relations. It offered simple counsel for anyone chasing their professional dreams. I remember it was a big hit, and clients, media and even other consulting companies asked for multiple copies to share with their communities.
So, for today’s Monday Morning Mojo, I have reached out to a few people I respect to ask them for the best advice they received, or have given, to share with all.
“Walk In Another Person’s Shoes”
My brother, a career, well-respected lawyer and family-man who runs an arbitration business now, offered this: “In addition to listening which you covered before, the best advice I can share when dealing with others is ‘to walk in the other person’s shoes, and don’t judge since you don’t know where they’ve been or coming from.’” Brian also shared a saying from his very kind and successful father-in-law that sat on his desk throughout his career. “Don’t postpone joy!”
“Be Kind To Everyone”
Paul Dresser, my high school soccer coach and lifelong friend shared this: “Be kind to everyone and do the right thing!” For those who know PD, he lives this advice everyday.
“Reach For The Stars”
My loving wife Lisa shared a favorite passage she heard early in her career from advertising great Leo Burnett: “When you reach for the stars, you might not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” For the record, she assured me that being married to me is a bit better than mud.
“All Will Be Good”
TB Song, my boss for the past 30 years offered this well-known Chinese proverb: “All will be good.” There’s a lot more to this than these three words. TB’s point, which is classic TB, is this: if a boat enters a harbor and has a tough time navigating, the captain should stay calm and everything will be ok in the end.
“If Someone Asks You To Do Something, Do It Better Than It Has Ever Been Done Before”
Chris Graves, also my boss at Ogilvy for many years, one of the smartest colleagues I have ever worked with and today President & Founder of the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science, shared this story about a personal experience and a huge disappointment that was converted into a lifelong lesson.
“Just as I left university, I won a colossal award. I had written, shot and edited a short movie. It won an award from the American Film Institute and I received my honor in the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. I had not even had my first job in TV or film yet, but I was off to an amazing start.
When I did get jobs that summer after graduation, they were all the lowest-level, entry PA (production assistant) jobs. You didn’t need to know anything about writing, shooting or editing. My job was to direct traffic, get coffee for everyone and move things around. But I felt I made the best of it, showing up early, being helpful, joking with the crew, and even having short conversations with the British director who seemed interested in my early career.
There were four PAs on this movie. I heard a rumor that a position had opened up a level higher and that one of the PAs would be promoted. I was certain it would be me. How could it not be me! I counted on it. Then I found out someone else was promoted. I was livid. Dejected. Resentful. I decided I would show up but not put my heart into the work anymore. I had been jilted.
Not long after, that British director asked me in a coffee break what was wrong. He said, ‘you used to be so much fun, so enthusiastic.’ I answered, ‘what went wrong?! I was clearly the most qualified. I have even won a top award from the American Film Institute! And I get passed over?’
The very quiet and intellectual director said, ‘I can see that hurts. But you should know that you will never get promoted for complaining. And you should know we all know you won that award. And we know you are capable of so much more than what we are asking you to do. But learning to make movies is more than intellectual. It requires experience. Lots of experience that you soak up in tiny bits every day. No matter how talented or smart you are, you cannot speed up time. So my advice is convert your resentment back into enthusiasm. If someone asks you to do something stupid like get coffee for the entire crew—do it better than it has ever been done before. If you get stuck directing traffic—do it better than it has ever been done before. You will get noticed and promoted.’
Most people that we treasure when we hire feel they are capable of doing so much more than what we have assigned them. But it is the experience they lack. Experience is not a euphemism for hazing. It is living the craft at every level in all kinds of situations. That takes time and is not programmed into modules you can read.
Later, on another job, I took this to heart. I was again a PA. The ad was one of the very first computer ads. They were shooting for special effects of making it look like a giant stack of books would disappear into a computer (that was a miracle in 1982). The special effect was manual and tedious. It required operating a hidden forklift to gently lift the stack of books inches at a time. A highly-paid specialist from special effects was hired to operate it. I watched his every move and asked hundreds of questions. Then, one day, he got in an argument with the assistant director and quit. Just walked right off the set. Everyone was in shock. How would we finish the ad? I spoke up. ‘I know how to run it…’ They didn’t believe me so I showed them. I was promoted on the spot. Sure, it was just operating a forklift. But no—it was my first special effects experience!”
“Advice From A 3rd Grade Dropout: How Are You Living?”
There are a lot of great videos with successful people sharing advice on what works for them. Many videos of commencement speeches are priceless. In preparing today’s blog I came across one I am sharing here to close out the column. Dr. Rick Rigsby, an award-winning journalist, author and professor delivered a very motivational and powerful speech about what he learned from his father, a third-grade dropout. He touches on many of the lessons mentioned above, and if you have 10 free minutes sometime this week, listening to Dr. Rigsby’s messages is a great way to spend your time. His speech is here with lots of great advice.
I hope these bits and pieces of advice from those I respect help you in your everyday life. All of these people have influenced my life, and I wanted to share their lessons with a broader audience. Wishing you the very best for the weeks ahead. Onwards and upwards!