If you want to be a hero at work, you gotta do two things.
First, you gotta do your job well. Heroes aren’t dead wood.
Second, heroes do what’s expected of them, and then some. The “then some” is the key. And it needn’t be spectacular. Just something that is above and beyond the job specs.
When I was a foreman for a highway department on Long Island, I did a lot of “then somes.” For instance, when I cut grass, I did so only after I purged the grass of litter. To a normal person, this would be considered a common-sense practice. Running over litter-strewn grass with a lawnmower only makes a lawn look more unsightly. Cut grass laden with thousands of pieces of shredded paper and plastic is not attractive. But in my bizarro world of government, running over litter with a lawnmower was standard practice. Picking it up beforehand was not in the job specs.
Here’s another example of going above and beyond from my foreman days. On a cul-de-sac in my area, there lived a family with a severely handicapped child. It was paramount to the parents that they could get their child to a hospital at any hour. And 99 percent of the time, this was never an issue. But during snow storms, cul-de-sacs were the last streets to get plowed. Understandably, the policy of my municipality was to plow the main roads first. There were thus several hours during every storm in which residents living on cul-de-sacs were trapped. But to me, this policy was unacceptable for this family. So the first thing I did during every snow storm was to personally plow this family’s cul-de-sac and cut a path to the main road.
Okay, becoming a hero at work is relatively easy. Do your job well, and develop a habit for doing a bunch of “then somes.” But what if you want to take it to the next level? What if you want to become a superhero? What do you have to do then?
Being a superhero has the same requirements as a hero. The only difference is that a superhero is more strategic with his or her “then somes.” A superhero uses his or her “then somes” to solve problems.
Again, you needn’t solve a monumental problem to become a superhero. Just find a problem—which every organization has in ample quantities—and fix it. And don’t wait to be asked. Find and fix a problem on your own volition. Here’s an example of what I mean.
A few years ago, my company decided to shutter the Charlotte office (my workplace). My main duty, managing the Louisiana Medicaid project, was being transferred to the corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas. So every month I would fly to Texas and explain to the transition team how I did this job.
Now, the database and code I created to manage the Louisiana Medicaid project was nothing special. The transition team in Texas had no problem understanding it. But my database and code was a one-off. It wasn’t part of my company’s formal IT infrastructure. And because of this, the transition team was having a tough time duplicating my process. It was a classic case of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
One particularly thorny issue the transition team encountered was the creation of a file that we were contractually obligated to send to Louisiana on a daily basis. Failing to send this file would result in a steep fine. I could have, of course, sat back and watched the transition team flounder. It wasn’t my job to show them how to make the Louisiana Medicaid project work in their system. But the people on the transition team were good people. And they were really trying. So I said, “f**k it,” and spent about a week developing a query after hours that created the file from the Texas system.
When I gave the query to the lead guy on the transition team and showed him the file it produced, he was stunned. He looked over the query for several minutes and then turned to me and asked, “What the heck it this? Black magic?”
It wasn’t, of course. Someone on his team would have eventually come up with an equally magical query. But because I did it, and did it on my own volition, I instantly became a superhero in the eyes of the transition team and the company.***
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s my three-step formula for becoming a superhero at work. Be competent, do “then somes,” and solve problems. Are you a hero at work? Are you a superhero? If you are, please let me know. I’d love to hear about it.
***I’d be remiss if I didn’t explain that producing this query catapulted me beyond superhero to megahero. You see, my status was already dead man walking. That’s right, I was given the pink slip. Because all processes were being handed over to TX, I was no longer needed and I was down to my last few weeks of work. Yet, still, I made life easier for my co-workers. Ultimately, because of my work habits and my reputation, I was promoted to another position in the company.