25 Things Your Boss Won’t Tell You: A Primer on Professionalism

A very long time ago in the 1980’s, a brilliant article by Harvey Mednick appeared in the trade paper Radio & Records (may it RIP).  That same piece was reprinted in R&R on January 1, 1999 with an intro by Cyndee Maxwell.

I copied the article and have carried it around since, from time to time passing on to colleagues and friends who I thought might appreciate it.  Not only did I find it impactful and actionable, this article actually made a difference in my career and shape-shifted some of my values and behaviour.

I pulled it out to see how it did against the test of time. I still think it’s brilliant.  Written before HR appeared on the scene, it’s common sense mixed with straight talk.  So, with all respect and thanks to the original author, here it is again.  I hope some part of it will resonate with you.

  1. Forget about excuses. With rare exceptions (of the life and death variety), no boss hears or cares why an assignment wasn’t done.  It’s your job to get it done and done well, on time.
  2. Don’t aim for perfection. Getting the job done well and on time is much more important than doing it perfectly.  Absolute perfection often counts against you if it prevents you from carrying your share of the workload.
  3. Simply carrying your share is not enough. Doing only what is expected of you and no more, positions you among the expendable masses.  Valued people do their job and look around for, create, or ask for more real work.
  4. Follow through on your own. Pick up the pieces and tie up the loose ends of your projects.  Don’t wait to be reminded, particularly by a superior.
  5. Anticipate problems. Ask yourself what could go wrong.  When your responsibility depends on others, check their understanding of what you’re doing.  There is no excuse for having your projects come out wrong.
  6. Be resilient about foul-ups. Part of carrying your responsibilities is understanding that mistakes and unforeseeable failures by others are a normal, routine part of work life.  When foul-ups occur, no one is picking on you.  Similarly, you can’t excuse them as “bad luck”. Once you realize that Murphy’s Law operates everywhere, it won’t be so hard to adapt to unfavorable conditions and make your project more successful.
  7. Take care of your problems, don’t take them to a superior. If you lack authority, come prepared with solutions when you broach the problem.  Although your solution may not be the one employed, you will have made your point as a problem solver – not a problem maker.
  8. Punctuality counts. No amount of staying late makes up for not being available when other people need you in order to complete their work.
  9. Attendance counts. People quickly become aware of who makes an effort to be there and who uses any excuse to miss a day.
  10. Don’t be a squeaking wheel. As a daily work ethic, this is a self-defeating approach. You don’t want to be seen as “Here comes a problem”.
  11. Don’t carry grudges over routine losses. You can’t win them all; no one can. Every batting champ was out 65% of the time.  Expect to lose some and don’t squander away your energy, the goodwill of your allies, and the patience of your boss by turning every issue into a crusade.  Concentrate on winning some of the big ones, and you’ll be ahead of the game.
  12. Choose your battles carefully. To decide if something is worth fighting for, ask yourself, “How much difference does this problem really make in my job? Is it permanent or transitory? Is it worth making enemies?  And, most important, do I have a realistic chance of winning?”  You’d be astonished at the number of people who fling themselves into a no-win situation.  Don’t be one of them.
  13. Deal directly with the decision maker. This is the way to get action. Dealing with people with less authority may be easier on your nerves, but you’ll be wasting time and effort.  Your most elaborate and powerful presentation may be passed on to the real power reduced to something as feeble as “Fred thinks we ought to think about changing this promotion.”
  14. When possible solve your own problems. This is another essential to being effective and valuable. Don’t stop after getting approval for a new camera, for example.  If the other person doesn’t follow through, you’re left looking inept with your explanation on how Fred promised to take care of it.  Make it happen, then follow through.
  15. Learn to translate “boss” language. You need to know that “If it’s not too much trouble” really means “Do it….and quickly.”
  16. Learn what other people in the company are doing. What were lasts year’s big triumphs and failures? What’s being planned? What are the major goals and fears?  And how do you fit into all of this?  Learn this, and you’ll better understand when, how and where to press for your goals.
  17. Get along with you co-workers. No boss is ever interested in who is “right” in a co-worker squabble. Internal battles mean less productivity. In many cases, if you’re involved, you’re automatically wrong.
  18. Protect the company’s reputation and privacy. Never discuss station business and the people in detail or by name in a public place. Even in private, be reticent about station politics, problems and business.
  19. Let others win sometimes – even when you have the power. Add the phrase, “Sounds like a good idea – we’ll do it that way”, to your vocabulary. If you don’t people will resent you.
  20. Learn timing. This often involves developing the patience to wait for an appropriate occasion.
  21. Don’t lie. Nothing is so serious that lying won’t make it worse. If you’re caught in a lie, you lose your credibility.  Then you’re dead.
  22. Read professional and trade publications. Indicating that you don’t have the time to read or subscribe will shock your supervisors. To them, your seeming lack of interest indicates no real career goals on your part.
  23. Get to know your peers in the industry. Be active in one or more professional or trade organizations. The contacts you make and the information you glean will help you on a personal level when you change jobs and improve your status with your current boss.
  24. Never assume other people are operating from your standards, your goals, or your rules. When you find yourself thinking, “I would never have expected such behaviour from him”, you know you’ve made the mistake of projecting your attitude on others’ behaviour. That’s a narrow, problem-generating attitude that can be very irritating to your superiors.
  25. Use common sense in applying these and all business behaviour rules to your own situation.

Do you think this article passes the test of time?  Is today’s world more political, more complicated?  If you have any feedback in agreement or disagreement, let me know at sharon@byrnesmedia.com.

Sharon Taylor is a radio consultant at ByrnesMedia and can be reached right this second @ 437-992-9202.