The following is an excerpt from the book Winning Habits
by Dick Lyles
Copyright © 2004 Pearson Education, Inc.
After a few eternal moments, the Admiral finally broke the silence. "It sounds to me like you need to examine some of your habits, young man."
"Habits?" asked Albert. After all, he didn't smoke, he drank only occasionally, and he had stopped biting his fingernails when he was in high school.
"Habits," declared the Admiral.
"Okay," responded Albert hesitantly. He had no idea where this conversation was headed.
"When I said 'habits,' you probably thought of all kinds of negative stuff, and things that people ought to stop doing."
"Yes, sir, I guess I did," recalled Albert. Did he read my mind?
"Well, habits can be good things, too. One thing they don't do enough of these days is teach people good habits."
Albert tried to think of a time when anyone, including all his teachers, had actually tried to teach him a habit. He couldn't come up with anything.
"A few good habits will carry you a long way," said the Admiral. "They'll get you through some tough times and set you up for consistent success. They'll make you a pacesetter."
"A pacesetter?" asked Albert. He was genuinely interested in what the Admiral had to say.
"A pacesetter," declared the Admiral as he looked deep into Albert's eyes to drive the point home. He made sure he was getting through to Albert completely before he continued.
"People talk a lot about leaders and leadership, and most of it's worthwhile. Study leadership and learn about leading, and it'll do you a lot of good. But I think learning to be a pacesetter is even more important. This more than anything else will determine whether or not you triumph in your career."
Again he paused without blinking or breaking eye contact. It was as though he were looking straight into Albert's mind as he talked. The Admiral meant business and wasn't about to risk being misunderstood. Likewise, Albert didn't dare break the trancelike connection he felt with the Admiral.
"Sometimes you're in a position to lead and sometimes you're not. But you're always in a position to be a pacesetter."
The Admiral paused for a moment before continuing.
"When you are handed the reins of leadership, you want to take them and do well. But I'll give it to you straight. You need to make good things happen around you whether or not you're the leader. Do that consistently and any position of responsibility you want will be offered sooner than you can imagine."
Albert didn't say a word because he didn't want to soften the Admiral's intensity. He also wanted to find out what this all meant.
"Don't seek career advancement by looking for promotions. Seek the opportunity to make good things happen around you, and the rewards will follow."
"But I've always done good work," countered Albert. "That doesn't seem to be my problem."
"And you're smart, too," observed the Admiral.
"Then I'm stumped," proclaimed Albert. "Which is it? My work isn't good enough? Or I'm not smart enough?"
"I'm sure your work is good enough, and I can tell you're smart enough. But you need to make more good things happen around you -- that's the booster you need."
"I still don't get it," said Albert.
"Of course not. If you did, you wouldn't be here with me," laughed the Admiral, lifting his famous chin skyward. "But because you are here, I'm going to share four secrets that will change your life by jump-starting your stalled career. But first let's get underway."
To Albert's surprise, they set sail out of the marina and into San Diego Harbor with the Coronado Bay Bridge looming majestically overhead. After a few moments at the helm, with the course set, the Admiral turned his piercing glare back toward Albert.
"You say you do good work," observed the Admiral.
"I'm not the only one. Others say it, too. I get a lot of compliments and my fair share of recognition."
"More than or less than what they say about your peers at UGAT?"
"There are a lot of good people at UGAT. Most of them do good work that's fairly recognized," explained Albert.
"Hah!" exclaimed the Admiral.
Albert waited for him to say more, but he just stood behind the wheel of the yacht, looking away from Albert, out over the water ahead, and wearing a quirky smile. Finally he turned his gaze back to Albert.
"Don't you see?" he asked Albert.
"I guess not," came the response.
"You all do good work." The Admiral was pleased with his explanation, even though Albert was perplexed.
After a moment, the Admiral spoke again. "You need to be different in a way that doesn't detract from their efforts, but allows you to make an even greater contribution."
"How do I do that?" asked Albert.
v "I'm going to share the four secrets. The first one I learned as a high school baseball player. Our school had a good team with a lot of good players. Our coach always told us the reason he worked us so hard every day was so we could play at the college level. But at the same time he said if we were to succeed at that level -- or for that matter in anything that is important in life -- we should make a habit of doing more than what's required.
Almost automatically, Albert raised his eyebrows and nodded his head to one side.
"Skeptical?" asked the Admiral.
"I've heard that before," responded Albert. "I don't mean to be disrespectful or anything, but it seems to me to be one of those motivational kind of things that sounds great when you say it, but doesn't make sense when you think about actually doing it."
"Explain," said the Admiral.
"Well, since you brought up baseball, let's use that. Say you're on base. If you cross home safely, you score one run. You can't back up and cross home twice on the same play to score two runs. Nor can you run past home plate and all the way to the dugout and score a run and a half. In other words, if you do what's required, you score one run. If you don't, you don't. It's simple, the rules are clear, and there isn't any extra effort that will change them."
"Aha!" responded the Admiral. "But the extra effort very rarely comes at the time of the play -- the moment of truth, if you will. More often than not, the extra effort comes before the moment of truth so you'll be optimally prepared when the test comes. For example, one of the things that coach taught us was always to be 'first on and last off.'"
"'First on and last off'?" questioned Albert.
"'First on and last off' means you put in more effort and work harder than anyone else -- and not just busy work, but a meaningful, higher level of contribution. Get to work -- or meetings, presentations, problem-solving sessions -- early, and don't be the first to leave. Those times, early and late, are often when some of the most meaningful contributions are made. When we played baseball it meant being the first one to show up for practice and the last to go home. It meant doing more to prepare and develop than our competition. It meant putting in more meaningful effort to produce the end result."
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