It is Hard to Be Negative When You Are Being Useful.

I did not develop this opinion from statistical analyses or formal education. If pushed, I would have little beyond anecdotal vignettes to support a contention that it is hard to be negative when you are being useful. Yet I am confident in believing just that. That productive people are typically fulfilled people. Generally happy.

If one accepts this, there are as usual two applications to such a belief. The first is looking inward, perhaps speculating on how you could be more productive or useful. The second is how you can use this truism as it applies to colleagues and, in particular, subordinates.

Under-utilization, either for yourself or someone else, breeds discontent.

So, how useful are you?

Baseball has a statistic abbreviated as WAR. It stands for Wins Above Replacement. It measures the delta between a player’s impact on the team’s performance vis-à-vis an average replacement.

As a dad or a friend or an employee, what would your WAR be? Are you any better than average?

To how many people are you more an acquaintance than a friend? Friend is an easy word to use, but the implications of what a friend represents can be enormous.

As a Dad, is it Wheel of Fortune you are watching in the evening or are you reading with one of the kids? Contributing with shopping or mopping?

Do you drop your kids off at religious ed. class or cub scouts or soccer practice for another dad to take over, or, rather, are mom’s in Ford Expeditions pulling up and dropping off their kids with you to coach/teach their children?

When I meet den mothers or little league coaches or religious ed. teachers, I am meeting seemingly happy folks. Are they busy? Yes they are. Are they harried? Sometimes. Will they look back on these days as some of the best days of their lives? Yes they will.  It is almost a clown question. It is as obvious as that.

Will your kids have any relationship with God if they don’t see you singing from a hymnal with consistency? Or will Santa represent Christmas? Are they your children by chance? I suspect not. There is a school of thought held by man for years immemorial that the laws of entropy, that the Five Basic Constants and the improbability of an anthropic universe suggest an initial singularity. Physics-speak for There is a God.

At work, how useful are you and how useful can you be? How useful do you want to be?

I worked with a locksmith on our staff for about 11 years. When I first got to know him, I immediately liked him and was sort of impressed. Big, smart, well-built guy with a strong sense of family. Seemed like he’d be a pillar of society outside of work. I assumed he was good at his job, but really did not know as our work orbits did not collide often.

Over a period of years I came to gradually learn that he was considered lazy and detached. He had a long-held pattern of time off or sickness during our most robust client seasons. He was in a job where the institutional knowledge of our clients’ needs made him a potentially valuable cog on the big gear that our operation was. We had many annuals and he could have developed strong professional relationships with so many of these consistent clients. He could have been a go-to guy. He could have been a welcoming face every year.

Yet he did not do that. He shied, always cloaking his behavior under a mantle of safety. He could not be blamed for anything if he was inert. Any proactive move on his part, in his explanation, would have created an opportunity to have his performance scrutinized. He could not have told you the names of any event planners or even the most basic aspects of their programs, yet he’d been doing work with them for years.

This guy could have been so well respected, and the reverse was true. People thought him a slacker. Clients had no idea who he was.

Can you guess what his attitude was toward clients and management? A mixture of scorn and detachment, as unlikely as that duo might seem. He stayed far away mentally with that hint of scorn that somehow justified his aloofness.

I mentioned above we were colleagues for 11 years. He was there at least 15 before I got there. He mentally went the wrong way early on. I think this was nurture or I hope so. I don’t think it was his nature. But I think he got conditioned either in his family or more likely from his initial colleagues. You see, he was one of many who presented this storefront.

An honest self-assessment is necessary to properly address the questions about your usefulness. He never did that, or I’d guess retreated from honesty.

For colleagues, the first clue is all about busy. If someone is not busy, there is little likelihood they are useful. Need something done? We all know you ask a busy person. Those are the folks getting things done. People who are not busy are much more likely to bark at additional responsibilities. They are not accustomed to producing. So make sure everyone is busy.

Quickly after that in importance is the concept of productive. Busy equates to motion. It does not equate to action. Action should be toward the goals. So everyone should be busy with things that help us accomplish our goals.

Ergo, when someone is busy accomplishing tasks toward a shared set of goals, you have people being useful which means people who are satisfied. And because they are moving toward the shared goals, the team is moving forward together, en masse. That is a special feeling. That is a good felling. That is the feeling high performing teams experience.

If you are negative, I’d gently suggest you look for ways to be more useful. If you are depressed, find an outlet to help someone else. Meals on Wheels or donate a unit of blood. Better yet, platelets. Useful is on a direct path to success.

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