Attitude is Everything
I literally get up everyday, including Saturdays and Sundays, because I am excited to get to work. My attitude has evolved into “everyday is an opportunity to do what I want”. That, my friends, is an incredible privilege. Attitude is perceived in everything you do – the way you speak, walk, listen, etc. Your attitude tells people around you what your character is and more importantly what you're willing to do to help someone.
I think with all the help I've received from people in my life, I noticed it when it was occurring. Today, however, I realized people made choices to help me. One of the people at IBM who helped me get the job told me the best way you can pay it back is to pay it forward. To this day, I employ college or high school interns as a means of paying it forward, but it certainly has paid back. My high school and college interns will tell you they can say anything they want to me without losing their job, as long as they are honest in learning. What I've learned more than anything is that my attitude can impact another person's attitude. When I am upbeat, positive, and willing to invest in someone else, they really have a very small window to even think about being negative; therefore, the attitude can be infectious. On the other hand, if we as leaders or people in general don't possess a positive attitude and invest in other people, we leave attitude to chance. What do people normally do? They certainly don't go to the water cooler in corporate America to gripe about all the positive things in the world. Please tell me you're laughing.
My attitude, certainly during my college years, has been suspect at best. When people invested in me, I noticed my attitude started to change because I had a fear of letting them down. I also know people took the time to help me when, quite frankly, they may not have had the time or would've preferred to use the time for something else. I love that Lou Holtz, the famous coach at Notre Dame football, started every conversation with, "What can I do to help you?" I stive to do this as much as possible.
I think there is a certain power associated with attitude. If our relationship with attitude is based on the question, "How can I use my attitude positively?", we frame our relationship with the attitude. Let me share a personal story from my childhood. My parents were divorced, and I certainly did not come from a conventional background. All of my friends' parents were happily married. One of my friends' dads, Phil Hanrahan, literally treated me like a son. I was able to go to basketball games, professional baseball games, trips, etc., but I just didn't experience them with my family. Years later, as an adult, I realized I was doing the same thing he was doing for me with my own kids by investing in memorable experiences. The simple things such as spending time, going out for lunch and asking them how their day was impacted me in meaningful ways, so I invest that effort into my children's lives.
I sent Phil and another family, the Fowlers, a letter thanking them for a great childhood. As a child, I knew they were good to me, but when you get older, you realize the impact other people have had on you. Not only do you make the realization, but you also do something about it that helps not only shape your attitude, but others' as well. As I stated in my introduction, Martha, my boss from IBM, was three to four levels above me, but always proactively took the time to make sure I was okay and enjoying what I was doing. That was over 30 years ago, and I still am as appreciative of that effort today as I was then.
All joking aside, one of the best things you can do when you've dug a hole for yourself, and then ultimately climb out of it, is realize the power of attitude. When things always go well for people, then adversity hits them, they are often unequipped to deal with it; therefore, I feel due to some of the setbacks I created for myself also inherently created some opportunity. One of the major opportunities was adopting an attitude in the form of "I can".
One of my favorite stories about attitude was when Martha hired me at IBM and told me to listen for opportunity. At the time she said this to me, I had no clue what she was referring to. Here I sit today, almost 30 years later, and I can still remember the details of that first opportunity and why my attitude opened up huge doors. Back in the 1980s, IBM did not have a great reputation for printers. Hewlett-Packard was all the rage when it came to printers. The floor that I worked on had products laid out for customers to come in and look at, including printers. One of the most amazing things to me was the marketing reps that would bring customers in, and when customers would ask questions about printers, very few, if any, had direct knowledge of how the printers worked and their benefits. Martha's message now resonated!
One of the gentlemen, Gordy, managed the IBM library where you could check out hardware and software. I would literally buy Gordy lunch to let me illegally check out printers and take them home to my one-bedroom apartment that my wife and I shared. I would literally practice demos at our kitchen table as if I was in front of customers. My wife thought I was nuts. Heck, I even thought it was nuts, because at one point I really thought I was talking to customers!
About six months went by, and at this point had mastered all of the IBM product lines when it came to printers. Here was the first time I had this incredible association with learning, knowing there was value even though at this point I had not yet experienced that value. I believe today that is one of the biggest hiccups we have a corporate America, and that is we only learn if there's something directly of benefit or reason why. The fact is learning paves the way to so many doors to be opened that we haven't yet encountered.
As I was sitting outside of Martha's office, a marketing rep came in by the name of Don Meyer. Don was a great guy, but let me just say old-school IBM. He sold through relationships and leveraged one of the great strengths that IBM had, system engineers. The system engineers did not even know much about the printers because, again, the pervasive attitude was we did not have a good printer line. Don asked Martha if he could do a demo of some printers in 1420 and if she had anybody who could assist him. The doors open. My attitude is ready. Now came the tough part, I had to convince Martha I was ready. The challenge was she did not know I was taking printers out for six months and literally practicing at home, over the course of weekends, and bringing the printers back every Monday morning before 7 AM or before anybody noticed.
I approached Martha and interrupted her conversation with Don. I told her I could do the demos but I needed time to get ready. Don responded, "The customers are literally coming up on the elevator as we speak." Martha glared at me, as I was indeed putting her on the spot in front of a marketing representative. She said, "Tim, how do you know anything about IBM printers?" I said, "Martha, if I could tell you later and get ready now, that would really help me out, but I promise you the customer will not be disappointed." Let's say Martha begrudgingly agreed, but again was not too happy with me, which I knew would be a serious conversation later. I had to get in the zone and ultimately get ready for my first real professional demo.
I set up the room and prepared the printers for demonstration. Back in those days, you had to have cartridges to change the fonts when using the printer; therefore, doing the printer demo was not as simple as it might seem today. The customer, a large manufacturing firm in Milwaukee Wisconsin, walked into the room, and I would say, they were somewhat surprised when they saw me. I knew they knew I was a college student. Don introduced me, and we were off and running.
The demo lasted 45 minutes, and looking back, I would say the customers had roughly about 20 questions of a technical nature. At the risk of this dumb guy sounding cocky, I had no problem answering any of them to the point where Don, during the demo, even interrupted and said, " I did not know that", which really added a fun element to the demo. The printer was the laser 4019. You see, til this day I remember phone numbers, model numbers, room numbers from the 1980s. There is no real value in this, but I thought I would you share it at this point.
As we are about to conclude the demo, one of the customers said, "I wish you guys had a printer so we could buy all of our printers from you to run on the shop floor." I sensed Don was about to apologize for the lack of printers, when in fact we had a great printer to do the work he was looking for. I asked the customer, "With a running co-ax or twin ax?" The customer looked at me, as did Don. "Twin ax," said the customer. I said, "Have you considered the 3820?" We proceeded to walk across the room where I set up all the printers in case this would happen. Til this day, I show up early when I do public speaking or coaching workshops, and I think it's because of this incident that ultimate preparation has been instilled in me. I began to demonstrate the 3820 and had comparative sheets between our printers and the Hewlett-Packard printers. In essence, the customer realized our printers were indeed comparable price wise as well as from a quality perspective.
The demo concluded and I was left with the customer and Don. Then Don left, and I said my goodbyes to the customers, all the while sensing someone over my shoulder looking at me. It was Martha. She was, let's say, not smiling at me. I walked past her and went right to her office, because at this point I was very conditioned to my interaction with her. She was mad, but I was excited. She said, "How did you know how to do those demos?" I began to tell her what I was doing with Gordy for six months. She was angry and not happy with what I was doing, because, in essence, it was somewhat against the IBM rules. She immediately began asking me questions of how I was so prepared. I explained everything to her and she cracked a subtle smile. She said, "What made you do that for six months, never knowing if you would have an opportunity?" I said, "The first week of the job, when you stated I needed to listen for opportunities and have the proper attitude to take advantage of it." She smiled and told me she was proud of me. As the office door opened, it was Don Meyer. He looked at me and then looked at Martha and said, "He did an amazing job and we just sold almost $150,000 worth of IBM printers." Martha then made a comment to Don that the sale opened up an incredible door. See, this made Martha look good as well, not that she needed it, but Don was unbelievably thrilled. I heard through the grapevine his commission check was quite substantial. He was a great guy, as he bought me a gift in appreciation for the work I had done. Don began to tell everybody in a division called 3T6 of this wonderful college intern who could sell printers like nobody. That was me!
It seemed like after that opportunity, everybody started asking Martha for my time to do printer demos. She agreed. I was doing a demo per week or a demo every two weeks. Here was the unbelievable thing to me: I was doing demos at a company like IBM. I had a low grade point average, flunked out of college twice, and really had no clue what I was doing. Within six months, most of my college counterparts, or at least some of them, were still doing some of the mundane set up work for other presenters. I also knew I could not come off cocky or arrogant as these people, my college counterparts, were also some of the smartest and greatest people I've met. They were my friends, and I knew how I handled this short-term success was critical. I still showed up at 7 AM to do the room set ups, even if I had a printer demo that day.
I look back at this lesson and I think to myself how lucky I was to not only have a boss like Martha, but also a company to work at like IBM. I learned so much, and even 30 years later, I still remember those lessons. Jerry Vite always impressed upon everybody in our division, when it comes to customers your attitude in preparation is critical to success. I still do this to this day. As I coach corporate clients, I stress attitude as a strategic tool, and how it should not be something we simply correct when someone demonstrates a not so good attitude. Our relationship with attitude has to be one where we, as leaders, are constantly investing in it, so people can create their own opportunities.