When I was growing up we had chores around the house. There weren’t boy chores or girl chores, there was simply a list of things that we were expected to get done. One of the most dreaded chores was mowing the lawn. My parents required that we bag the clippings and when everything was mowed the job wasn’t done until the sidewalks and walkways had been swept clear.
We grew up in a time when there were no reruns on television. If you missed an episode of your favorite show you were out of luck, likely to never see it again. Star Trek was THE show to watch, the original version. William Shatner and Leonard Nemoy set our imaginations on fire as they traveled where no man had gone before. My older brothers were particularly hooked on that show.
One weekday mowing the lawn and Star Trek collided and my work ethic was cemented. My oldest brother procrastinated in getting the mowing done; he waited until the last minute before the show started to put the lawn mower away. My other brother and I reminded him that the job wasn’t done until the sidewalks and walkways were swept. “You better get it done before Dad gets home.” He brushed our comments aside and sat down to watch the show. You guessed it, Dad got home asked who did not sweep, my oldest brother then argued with him about watching the show and sweeping after…needless to say my brother lost and missed that episode.
I learned that there was a standard at our house of how a job was expected to be completed. That standard was communicated clearly and the consequences for not meeting that standard were understood. I also learned that if a job was worth doing it was worth doing right. My parents expected us to show respect to our home and ourselves by doing things right the first time. Sure we could fail and learn the lesson, and once the lesson was learned it was the new standard.
I am often asked how to teach people work ethic. Many organizations seem to be lacking a communal understanding of what pride in a job well done means. The challenge is that work ethic is taught at an early age, through hard work, consistency and clear expectations of what pride in a job well done feels like. Sure we can provide opportunities for people to learn a new standard and work hard, their work ethic comes into play when no one is watching and they are left to their own demise. Do they meet or exceed the standard or do as little as possible to get it done as quickly as possible? Those who learned a work ethic early in life – by mowing the lawn, working after school, or serving in some other responsible role – know what it means to do it right the first time AND may even do it better than the current standard. They know that the work reflects on who they are and what they can be trusted with in the future.
We have robbed our children of the lessons of hard work, chores, high standards and going without until they do the job right. As adults we know that nothing is really free and if you are willing to work hard you can have just about anything you want. Until we allow our children and colleagues to understand our expectations AND hold them to those expectations no matter what we rob them of practicing a strong work ethic. As a youth I learned by watching my brother suffer.
This photograph is from a hotel where I was staying. The lawn crew had left and I walked right through all these clippings still on the sidewalk. That fateful day where lawn mowing and Star Trek collided flooded back into my brain. I learned my work ethic as a child. I understood that when it was my turn to mow the lawn, do the job all the way to the end and you can enjoy Start Trek with a sense of pride in a job well done…otherwise suffer the consequences. My guess is the lawn crew never learned that lesson.