2006 – How to develop the right attitude to work
If you have yet to discover a piece of internet browsing
software at a website called StumbleUpon.com, I can recommend
it for the way it transforms that otherwise rudderless exercise
called “surfing the net” in to a stimulating
The software is an intelligent browser which enables you
to select from a range of about 500 topic categories, not
quite the number listed in the Dewey decimal system, but
a broad field of choices nevertheless.
The browser then uses your choices to select from the billions
of web pages out on the web. Every time you click your stumble
button it brings up another page. By clicking on additional
“thumbs up” or “thumbs down” buttons,
you can register your approval or disinterest. In doing
so you are refining your selection criteria still further
since each rating is digested by the software.
The stumble button on my home page now has a pretty good
idea about the kind of material that pushes my own particular
buttons. I would guess that it throws me one interesting
site for every five attempts which is not a bad hit rate.
One of the web sites I found last week was Similarminds.com,
a site that enables you to undertake a selection of personality
tests. Sometimes I get calls and emails from parents who
want advice about various commercial services offering personality
testing and assessments for their graduate-level offspring.
While I would not deny that such services have some value
- and the ones I have come across do use respectable instruments
- I do question whether it is necessary to pay for such
advice when there is guidance available free on the internet.
The internet tests do not, of course, include the kind
of face-to-face consultation that is offered by some services,
but practicing the tests on a site like this will give aspiring
executives among graduates an insight in to the kind of
personality-focused questions they may encounter if they
apply for a traineeship with a large employer.
Practice on a site such as this is useful in the way it
provides some self-knowledge, but it does not deliver the
kind of detailed pointers about how to approach your work
on the first rung of corporate management.
I might have made fewer early career mistakes if I had
been able to draw on the sound practical advice delivered
in a new book, From New Recruit to High Flyer, by Hugh Karseras,
an investment banker and former McKinsey & Co consultant.
His chapter on workplace attitudes, for example, includes
observations that may prove unpalatable to anyone who believes
that big City salaries do not extract their pound of flesh.
The good news, he says, is that you can get on in such jobs
without displaying academic brilliance, but not without
The work ethic and work attitude was rated highly among
about 100 senior executives consulted by the author in researching
the book. “There is no substitute for hard work and,
let’s be clear here, hard work is not only about working
long hours; it is born of a deep desire to get your work
done to the highest quality and in timely fashion,”
writes Mr Karseras.
That said, he does not subscribe to the investment banking
habit of putting in “face time,” the practice
of working late in order to be seen to be there by your
Another piece of good advice, is “never complain.”
It’s not always easy to find yourself doing some dull
job when you have always been among the academic elite at
school and university. But, as Mr Karseras points out, nearly
all “first-rung” jobs in the City will entail
some drudge work at times. If you can’t feel enthusiastic
about a particular job, he says, then fake it.
Demonstrating a willing attitude to do the dull along
with the exciting, to make cups of tea for your colleagues
or work the photocopier, he argues, will always go down
well with a boss.
Most management and career books don’t tell you this
kind of stuff. Refreshingly and deliberately, he has omitted
“leadership lessons,” that seem to go with every
new tome on talent management. As a student at Harvard Business
School he noticed that its alumni were sometimes viewed
as arrogant, partly from the way that its MBA students are
instilled with the sense that they are “future leaders”
from the day they arrive on campus.
But, as he notes, those leaving business school are still
going to occupy relatively junior jobs on completion of
their course. “The reality of the first-rung job is
that you have to do a lot more following than you do leading,”
The best parts of the book are those that try to instil
in first-rung professionals a sense of humility, respect
and team work. “You should not view any task as beneath
you,” it says.
In my experience it is dangerous to consider anyone in
your workplace unimportant and that is a lesson for managers
as much as juniors. One of my former colleagues remembered
working as a junior reporter with a similarly junior colleague
who, he said, was “given hell” by one section
editor. One day, that same editor found himself answering
to the former junior who turned out to be the vengeful type.
In this case neither individual had demonstrated the finest
human qualities and neither survived a full-term career.
I have few quibbles with Mr Karseras whose advice is first
rate, honest and important for anyone pursuing a career
in corporate management, but I worry about the system that
demands such persistent focus from employees.
As he points out, “you cannot expect to be the best
first-runger while working a 50-hour week when the other
first-rungers are working 60 hours. If you do not recognise
this trade-off and do not explicitly choose to make it,
you will only become frustrated and disappointed when you
see others progress faster.”
But what kind of trade-off is acceptable? Too many people
today, I believe, are choosing their career ahead of their
family life. Tellingly Mr Karseras quotes Kim Clark, the
former dean of Harvard Business School who would tell MBA
students on graduation, “No success in the workplace
can compensate for failure at home.”
Those kinds of choices also need the right kind of attitude,
an attitude to life that does not stress work for work’s
sake, but that keeps a sense of perspective about a career
and the meaning of success.
Unlike so many modern consulting-style management books
that are thinly veiled marketing tools for the writer, this
one has been written in easy language with a genuine desire
to fill a gap in management education. Attitude matters
in publishing too.
“I wanted to write about the things I would have
appreciated knowing in the first two years of my career,
a lot of the small common sense stuff that you don’t
think about when you’re starting out,” he says.
As one of life’s stumblers I too would have appreciated
such advice and would commend it to anyone seeking to build
a successful career.
New Recruit to High Flyer: No-nonsense Advice on How to
Fast Track Your Career by Hugh Karseras