It is human nature to want some praise for the work that you do but sometimes you accomplish more by staying in the shadows than stepping into the spotlight. While it is not written in my rules for a good life, it is there between the lines.
One rule that is in my list is leaving any organization or place where you have been better for your having been there. On the surface you might think it is easiest to do that as a leader standing in the spotlight with a title. Sometimes it is actually far more effective to labor anonymously in the shadows.
As nice as it is to have someone publicly thank you for your efforts, you can actually get an abundance of satisfaction by just doing your job well. There is plenty of pleasure in doing something that needs doing and no one figuring out that that you did it.
One example comes to mind easily. When I was first running Apple's federal team, we were so far under the radar, that I made up my own business cards. We also were not a threat to anyone. We were able to work with a lot of people in Cupertino who bought into our vision of making OS X an alternative operating system for the federal government. We got an amazing amount of things done that made it easier to sell to the federal government and our sales were amazing. However, we were a stealth organization. I was in an executive briefing with Steve Jobs and he was talking to customers and turned to me and asked if we had an office in the Washington area. Of course we did, that was where my team was based.
As our team grew exponentially and I got promoted to director, things got a little more dicey. The second year that we were the best enterprise sales team in the world, Apple sales management decided that the best way to handle our success was to cancel the annual award for best enterprise sales team. We had become a threat to some people who believed that Apple's best course was to be a consumer oriented computer company.
My new title actually got me involved in a training course with senior executives. A video presentation of mine which had customers begging for Apple and Microsoft to cooperate more became one those corporate risks that can unhinge a career. Tim Cook loved the idea, but Avie Tevanian hated it. Had we just kept doing it without telling people at the top, we could likely have continued on the path.
I like to tell folks that I flew too close to the sun in Cupertino and my wax wings melted.
There are lots of times in life when you sit around the table and you can accomplish unbelievable things by just being a doer without a title. There are times when the leaders around the table will give you the latitude to do something without most people knowing what is happening until it is done. I have never been one to do things behind folks backs but sometimes change is easier if presented as a done deal. Getting something done which has to be done is far better than having a group paralyzed because not enough people understand what needs to be done. I can attest to the results of that.
The best possible situation is that people trust you enough to tell you to fix the problem and call if you run into a bump in the road. That also works great in the reverse. One night I was having a late night email exchange with Tim Cook, Apple's current CEO. At the time he was COO and vice president of sales. He asked me why I had not been able to get Apple federal online store up and running. I told him exactly why. The total exchange between the two of us was less than ten lines. The next day I got a call and by the end of the week we had a federal online store. It sold $12M in product the next year even though we were forbidden to advertise that it existed.
Doing a job well is its own reward. I learned that from my mother and I live by it. Whether it is scrubbing mold off a boardwalk, taking a picture or putting the finishing touches on a big proposal, if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well even if you remain in the shadows.
I got a nice note from our company's CEO today. No one saw it but my wife. I will take that private note to walking across the stage at Apple and getting an award. In today's world there is no sense in making yourself a target.
As a side note, this is post number 1400 from me on View from the Mountain. I have been writing posts here for eleven years. While I write more at my Crystal Coast Life blog, last month was probably the only time in those years that I have missed posting here.