Early in my leadership career, I had a junior member of staff who was late to work. Nothing unusual about that, you may think, for are we not all occasionally late into the office? Most of us commute and moreover do so via British Transport. Lateness is a common and unavoidable result of train travel in Britain.
No, this guy was late with a poor excuse: that his alarm clock didn’t wake him up.
Well, that happens too, you tell me. Most of us use our phones as alarms these days. Have we not all forgotten to plug it in and charge it? Inevitably leading to the horror of awaking too late to get into the office on time?
Well, yes – but, this was the third time in three days.
So, indeed. The thing is this: I know how he must have felt; struggling to get out of bed. We all struggle sometimes. We all look over at the alarm clock, as the digital hour changes to 6 am, and wonder, “What would happen if I just hit the snooze button and wen’t back to sleep? Just turned over and warmed up to my loved one?”
Would that course prepare me to face life’s challenges?
You see, I know why it is that you set the alarm for 6 am, and it’s not just because of the train timetable. It’s because you need to be in control of your own life. That you have decided to be defiant to the “easy way”. You’re a worker and one who has made the choice to do the uncomfortable commute, against all common sense. To drive forward towards your goals.
Long ago I imagined myself at 80 on my deathbed, surrounded by all those talents I didn’t grow, those ideas I didn’t realise and those goals I didn’t see through. They said to me, “We came to you, to give us life; but, now we must die with you”.
I get up as an act of defiance to that possible future, with the realisation that taking the comfortable way out would be how I fall and inevitably end up there. I have realised that such visions are useful, as they are like an opponent in a race, who is always on one’s heels and breathing down one’s neck.
Getting up and on is a tacit acknowledgement of your fighting spirit, your willingness to put one foot in front of the other, as you walk the path away from self-doubt towards your potential.
It’s just sometimes that you need some help.
So, on that third day, I called out the latecomer in front of the team. I said to him that he had a choice. The easy way was to come downstairs with me now and speak to the CFO and probably get a written warning. The hard way? Well, that was much more interesting…
I laid out on the desk in front of him three sheets of paper, each a print of an Amazon.com product page.
“You,” I said, “have to pick and purchase one of these three alarm clocks. The first, when you hit snooze, directs a little helicopter mounted atop the base to take off and randomly squirt a water pistol around the room. The second logs remotely into PayPal and donates money to something you hate. The third, well this has been designed for the National Sleep Deprivation Society and rings at an ear-splitting 80 decibels together with a device that slides under your pillow and jolts it up and down.”
He looked suitably wide-eyed and, after a moment of thought, selected the third option.
I knew right there and then I could trust this man and that I could grow him into a top worker. All I had to do was get him out of bed for a reason. A reason, which would mean he never had to hit snooze again.
Giving him that reason was my part, his would be getting up. It would be the measure of his motivation from then on.
Fast forward 10 years’ later and, when I left my previous employer for a new role, I was happy to hand this man the reigns and responsibility of leadership. I knew that he would teach the next late riser the same lesson:
That we must all rise and shine, it is the first step to achieving victory over oneself.