“Oscar The Guard”

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 27, 2009

For those of you not yet familiar with Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouch and the rest of the Sesame Street gang, read no further. For those of you already familiar with those children’s characters that have a lot to teach adults, let me introduce you to “Oscar the Guard”.

My morning travels take me through a security check point that is staffed by a number of people, two of whom stand out for differing reasons.

Guard #1 has a positive presence. He invariably has a smile on his face and a pleasant word to say. His bearing is businesslike and professional. If you really needed help, he is the type of security officer you would want. A crisp friendly greeting from Guard #1 is the sort of contagious contact that gets your day started in the right direction.

I frequently have a traveling companion and we have started to affectionately refer to Guard #2 as “Oscar the Guard”. He must be a close relative to Sesame’s “Oscar the Grouch”. My companion and I have yet to see a smile or hear much more than an unpleasant mumble from our “Oscar”. Passing by Oscar can be like seeing the sun fade behind the clouds.

The contrast between the two guards has frequently directed our morning conversations to a discussion of work attitudes. It’s clear to us that Guard #1 has set out to do the best job that he can in a positive a manner as possible. The approach he takes to his work benefits himself and those around him. We can testify to his impact on others and he appears happy and energetic.

Oscar, on the other hand, is a different story. Now that we have become accustomed to his frowning face, we greet his scowls with amusement. Prior to christening him “Oscar the Guard” however, his gruff manner was regrettably as contagious as his co-workers smile. I’m quite certain that on many a day he is greeted with frowns that glare back in response, “What are you so grumpy about today”. The greetings we receive are often mirror images of those we send.

Whatever work or activity that you are engaged in, strive to be the world’s best. Pursue that objective with a positive attitude for everyone’s benefit. Whether you are in surgery or security, firefighting or finance, if you strive to be the best, you will be happier with yourself and you will positively impact those around you. There are enough problems in the world to put a frown on all our faces, but a face without a smile is just one more problem for somebody else.

If you are unhappy with what you are doing, do it to the best of your ability until another opportunity comes along. Habit patterns develop consistency. Excellence is no exception. Develop a pattern of excellence in your work and it will carry over to your next job and into all facets of your life. The bottom line is that a positive attitude pays.

As the holiday season approached my traveling companion and I decided to present Guard #1 with a small gift as a token of appreciation for his courtesies. I suggested that in the spirit of the “golden rule” that we should get Oscar a gift in the hopes that it might improve his disposition.

My companion had some interesting objections. If you did that, he said, what would Guard #1 think. Wouldn’t he feel that it didn’t make any difference how he did his job if he saw the grouch getting the same reward?

I responded that he probably never would find out ( I should have known better than to say that, they always find out) and if he did, it probably wouldn’t have any effect on him. I was less than convincing even to myself at this point. But the “golden rule” I reiterated. “Great”, my companion replied, but Oscar has had every opportunity to be like Guard #1, but he’s not.

While the dialog continued with no easy answers in sight, the contrasting personalities of these two guards raised interesting questions concerning employee attitudes, motivations and rewards. These are the questions that we face as managers on a regular basis.

One of the lessons to be learned from these early morning conversations is the power of a smile and a positive attitude. Put that smile on your face and project a positive attitude about your work and those around you will become mirrors that reflect your image.

Each day that I see Oscar I am reminded how a sour disposition can have a contaminating effect. We all bear burdens that can justify a frown, but a frown will never lessen the burden. I know I’ve been guilty from time to time, it’s not always easy when it’s your business. The #1 Guard reminds me how contagious a smiling face and positive attitude can be, especially if you are the boss.

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