Chuck Lauer: Don't mail it in

Effort is a byproduct of attitude. What happens at work carries over to the rest of your life.

I was talking the other day to my great friend Terry Mulligan, a former top executive with Baxter International, and somehow we got on the subject of attitude and productivity in the workplace, specifically how some people excel while so many others either fail or maybe worse, just trudge through their work lives, steeped in mediocrity.

Terry told me a story that I believe sums up these wide variances in performance. When he entered the Army and attended Officers Candidate School, he passed all the written tests he was given and performed admirably on the physical skills tests, but didn't exactly put himself out. "I did just enough to get by. I kept my nose clean and didn't bother anybody and I didn't cheat. I thought I was doing well until one day, I was called into the captain's office for a chat."

He was about to get his comeuppance. "Mulligan, we had high hopes for you when you first entered OCS," the captain said, noting that Terry had played football for Iowa, graduated with honors and from outward appearances seemed to have a good attitude. "We thought you would be a 'gung ho' leader for the company and later would be an outstanding Army officer, inspiring your men. Unfortunately, that isn't the way things have been working out, and we are all disappointed. It seems you have a 'mail-it-in' attitude; you do what you have to do but don't go any further than that.

"That isn't the way you get ahead in this world," the captain said. "To be noticed and to be a great leader, you have to be willing to give each day 100 percent no matter the circumstances. You have to set the standard for your men and your fellow officers. You've got a lot of potential, but haven't really used much of it yet. You have about 8 weeks left to show your potential, and I am suggesting you start over with a new attitude and be the person and leader you can be. Now get out of here! And get back with your company and let's see what you can do!"
Terry slunk back to his barracks and let this dressing down sink in. "I thought about everything he had told me and I realized I had been giving a very average performance day after day. I guess you could say I had an epiphany, because after that talk from the captain I promised myself I would give 100 percent effort every day. I have followed that philosophy every day since. That captain changed my whole life, and I attribute any success I have had over the years to his advice and that chat."

After the Army experience, Mulligan got into the selling business and started with American Hospital Supply, selling medical products and services to hospitals. After Baxter bought out American Hospital Supply back in the 80s, Vernon Loucks, the chairman of Baxter, asked Terry to become the company's sales director. He did an outstanding job for both companies and is considered a legend in the industry.
What happened to Terry Mulligan isn't unusual; many people have had mentors who changed their lives by giving sound advice about their careers and attitudes. And yet many more need to learn what it takes to give their all at work, really committing to their jobs. They often come in and do what it takes to stay employed — and that's about it. They don't come up with new ideas, they don't go out of their way to help their colleagues and they produce lackluster results for their organizations. This kind of attitude often leads to getting fired at some point in their careers, and when that happens people have to start all over again. Amid a middling recovery, good-paying jobs are not easy to come by. Mailing it in is not a good strategy.
Effort is a byproduct of attitude. What happens at work carries over to the rest of your life. I watch people fail in their work, and see their marriages and other endeavors suffer because they won't give their all. Thinking positively and intensively gives birth to enthusiasm. Those who wake up and give their best effort every day are the ones who rise to the top, no matter whether they are a professional athlete, broker, salesperson or firefighter. Talent only takes you so far.

So be the person you were meant to be. Make things happen and don't be a spectator! Get on the field of play and take on all the challenges that come your way with enthusiasm and dedication. Live as is your life depends on it, because in all the important ways, it does.

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