cloud computing, business, and leadership

June 22, 2012
by Derrick Isaacson

What an Old Soldier Can Teach Us About Employment

Elbert Hubbard’s clarion call to responsibility inspires me. He cites this Spanish-American War soldier, Rowan, known for his dependability in delivering a message to “Garcia”, never asking where he was or how to reach him. Hubbard exclaims:

By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, … do the thing.

Hornet on an ivy-bud

Hornet on an ivy-bud by wolfpix on flickr

Is it initiative, drive, responsibility, accountability, dependability, duty? Hubbard decries the lack of it as “slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work.”

I’m lucky to have rubbed shoulders with highly successful people, from billionaire serial entrepreneurs to famous computer scientists. I’ve seen three practices where, like Rowan, they are agents who act for themselves, rather than objects being acted upon.

1. “Will do.”

It’s a terse response that promises results and demands nothing. Think what you normally hear. “Why?” It expresses doubt about the work. “What?” It displays incompetence. “How?” It’s a trick to foist some of the work back on you. Hubbard says if you get that response you’ll “smile very sweetly and say, ‘Never mind,’ and [do it] yourself.”

2. “I did.”

Taking initiative shows our commitment to duty. I’ve seen workers who do what they’re told, but astound me when they lack any independent thought or initiative of their own. If their assignment doesn’t spell out a task, they don’t do it. If there’s a hole in the specifications, they wait.

Often it’s a misguided belief in their place, deferring to “designers”, “stakeholders”, or “product owners”. What a waste of human capital! When an org operates that way it’s an absolutely mediocre disappointment.

In my faith we have this scripture:

It is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant… men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will… for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves… – Doctrine & Covenants 58: 26-29

I love it!

3. “I did more.”

I’m frustrated when told how to do something that I’m capable of doing, and better. I hate micromanagement. Turning that around, how pleased are we when people meet our needs better than expected, or better than we knew possible.

Doing it, doing more, and doing it better.

Letting Hubbard close:

My heart goes out to the man… who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking any idiotic questions, … or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets ‘laid off,’ nor has to go on a strike for higher wages. Civilization is one long anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks shall be granted; his kind is so rare that no employer can afford to let him go. He is wanted in every city, town and village- in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such…