At the beginning of your career there are always those experiences that leave a lasting impression, much like some early lessons we learned in childhood.
Young people are both vulnerable and innocent in terms of what is expected of them and what they have to do to be productive and successful. It is a critical time in anyone's career, and if you are not lucky enough to have a good boss who has solid values and a willingness to guide you on the right course, those first few weeks can leave you disillusioned and cynical. But sometimes people outside your organization offer advice and guidance that can be invaluable.
I know when I started in publishing I had bosses who showed me the ropes, but there were clients who helped me just as much by giving me advice about a presentation I had made or how I should proceed in selling accounts.
People can be very giving when it comes to advice, but those who are receiving the mentoring have to be willing to listen and keep an open mind. Many people begin their careers by thinking they know more than anybody else-including their managers-about how to do their jobs. That's the road to failure. An open mind is the opposite-the key to future success.
This whole topic came to mind because of a story I was told recently by a good friend who is one of the top salespeople for his company. The organization is one of the biggest operations in the industry and enjoys a wonderful reputation both in and out of healthcare. Over lunch this gentleman and I started trading sales stories and talked about how important it is to get off on the right foot in life. I told him how lucky I have been in my sales career to have great bosses who guided me through some rough times. I was especially fortunate to have great mentors at the very beginning of my career and I will always remember how patient they were with me.
My friend then told me a story about making his first call as a detail salesman for a major drug manufacturer. Here's what he told me:
"I went through all the training the company gave their sales reps. It was all very comprehensive, and after completing it I couldn't wait to make my first call. I remember telling my wife how excited I was and I also told her I was nervous, but out the door I went to make my first call. My first appointment was with a general practitioner. I was really geared up to give him the works. But as I was beginning my pitch he stopped me cold. I was stunned and I started to speak again, but he held up his hand and asked me for the card that detailed the contraindications and side effects. Then he asked me to tell him what were the side effects and contraindications for the new drug. I was stumped and embarrassed. I didn't know the answer to his question and he told me to come back another time and detail him on another drug that my company sold.
"I well remember going home right after that call and telling my wife I didn't think I was cut out for the drug business. She told me I was wrong because she felt what the physician had done was both positive and instructive. A couple of weeks later, I called on that doctor again and gave him a presentation on another drug. This time I knew all the side effects and contraindications, and he gave me an order. That lesson he taught me was so important because from that day forward I knew everything I needed to know when I made calls on physicians. The lesson I learned was always to be prepared and always to know everything about the product or products you are presenting. That physician and I are still good friends and I honestly believe he helped make my career a success."
Another wonderful story I heard recently on this subject comes from my good friend Jan Jennings, chief executive officer of Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pittsburgh. Like so many of his peers, he loves the healthcare industry and over the years has distinguished himself as one of the most dynamic and capable leaders in the industry. Here's what he said in an e-mail:
"Twenty-five years ago, I was serving on the administrative staff of Shadyside Hospital. The CEO asked me to serve on a committee of the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania. The chairwoman of the HCWP committee was Sister Ferdinand Clark, then the president and CEO of Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh. She was quite a woman. She was respected and admired by all who knew her. In one of those HCWP committee meetings, we were discussing something of no particular importance and one of the men on the committee uttered an old expression on reference to the matter at hand. He said to Sister Ferdinand, `Don't worry about it. The devil is in the details.' Her response changed my career. She said, `Young man, no, that is not right. The devil is not in the details-God lives in the details. You must look into the details in order to find the truth.' "
I couldn't possibly do credit to Jennings' commentary, but after briefly outlining his career he tells the story of his best friend's adult son, who had a terrible trauma to his left arm. He was rushed to a trauma center where surgery was performed. Later he would have additional surgery at St. Clair Memorial Hospital, also in Pittsburgh. Jennings' friend expected a good experience from the surgery because St. Clair has an excellent reputation. What he didn't expect was a flawless hospital experience.
In Jennings' words, "Let it suffice it to say the contrast (with the first hospital) was dramatic. What St. Clair demonstrated with this episode was flawless attention to detail. The cleanliness, the crisp linens, the quality food and the hospitable, well-trained and highly motivated personnel are the product of meticulous planning and superb execution.
"To be more specific, you find the devil in some American hospitals when you observe dirty hospital rooms, poor outcomes, unwarranted nosocomial infections, lousy food, gruff personnel and poor communication with the patient and family. Thank God this example at St. Clair Hospital is rapidly becoming the norm of American hospital care. And, so Sister Ferdinand was right: God lives in the details."
Jennings has never forgotten Sister Ferdinand's words, and because of her philosophy his career has been filled with success.
Little things turn into big things,