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One of my gigs in this “Life after the Army” finds me serving as an adjunct professor at a DOD educational institution. My students run the gamut of life experiences from retired military personnel, who are on a second career as civil servants, to career civil servants, to new arrivals, to civil service (aka “those millennials”).

This job helps me stay in touch with what is occurring in the DOD workspace as it affects people, policies, and acquisition processes. Additionally, it helps me keep my ear to the ground in a place that allows me a more in-depth perspective and I can stay current with what’s going.

Recently we asked students a question: “Think about an effective leader you have known, admired, or read about. Write down the characteristics (qualities or behaviors) that made that leader effective.” As we went around the room, we heard adjectives and nouns such as “honest,” “trusting,” “competent,” “confident,” “integrity,” and “compassionate.”

Then one of our younger civil servants (about 5 years in the workforce) said that his first boss told him he needed to remember that there were 4 keys to being an effective civil servant:

Be on time
Always have something to take notes with at a meeting
Remember people’s names
Dress appropriately

This effective guidance made a difference because the student who shared it still remembered the advice after 5+ years and after that boss had departed. What made that guidance so effective?

Be on Time: You only get 24 hours in a day, and I have observed that the effective use of time discriminates between high performers and laggards. High performers get more done in the same period of time than laggards because they focus, and the first place they focus on is not abusing their teammates’ time by being late. Recently I worked with a group that required me to schedule and conduct individual interviews. The routine “lateness factor” was between 10-40 minutes. This lateness as a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) impacted my impression of this group’s professionalism. “I guess if I ever need it on a Friday, I better ensure I ask for it by Wednesday” best expresses the thought. There is a reason why the youngest and most exceptional coach in National Football League history, John Madden (youngest coach to 100 wins, 74% winning percentage, Pro Football Hall of Fame), said that while he had very few rules, one of them was “Be on time.”

Always Have Something to Write With: Unless you are truly blessed with a photographic memory (and no one will believe you are), show respect by coming prepared to get the insights that people at the meeting are willing to share. Especially your boss! You then need to make some time to read your notebook before the next meeting to take action on the tasks you need to address. Employees who don’t do this appear disinterested, rude, and usually are judged ineffective at best, relegated to the company’s “B” team.

Remember People’s Names: “If you remember my name, you pay me a subtle compliment; you indicate that I have made an impression on you.” Dale Carnegie People enjoy their own name vs. the alternative: “Hey, you! Yo, man!” or down here in the South, “Hello, darling.” Using someone’s name shows you pay attention, you remember, and you are thoughtful enough to know the impact it has. Take some of that valuable social media time from Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, etc. and Google “How to Remember Names.” This practice makes a difference.

Dress Appropriately: Harder to do today with terms like “business casual” and “casual Friday.” When all else fails, I have found the rule of thumb to be the following: “If I were asking the people I’m meeting to invest in me, what would I wear?” Like being on time, having something to write with, and remembering names, dressing appropriately conveys respect, and with any luck, that respect will be returned to you many times over.

Often we spend our energy looking for the magic bullet, the secret sauce to success and relationships. Sometimes it’s just not that complicated.

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