COOL THING #40: Beyond the work ethic: Don’t work hard, team hard

(For those of you who are friends or colleagues, I have a favor to ask – please check it out at the end of this message.)

I recently saw this advice on “how to be grown up at work”:

“Replace ‘screw you’ with ‘OK, great!’”

We keep hearing how younger employees are lacking a work ethic. That’s fine by me. Because there’s something better, what I call The Contribution Ethic.

Think about the “work ethic” as a sales pitch for employees:

“NOW HIRING: Come join us at Old School Inc. and learn the old fashioned values: Get up early and be one of the first to arrive. Stay late. Keep your head down and your mouth shut and just do your job and we will eventually recognize your efforts and one day promote you where you can set a good example by working even longer hours.”

I took this at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles)

Then, there’s the Contribution Ethic. Instead of striving to do the most work, with the contribution ethic, you work at making the biggest contribution. Here are the first two principles of maximizing contribution:


1. Just help. Make yourself useful. You aren’t just there waiting; there’s no waiting. Just help.

2. A great player is worth less that a great teammate.

Making a contribution allows for creativity and individuality, and raises one’s eyes from “doing my work” to “helping my team.”

Speaking of helping the team, here’s a passage from Tina Fey’s delightful book Bossypants, where she describes Kay Cannon, one of her favorite employees when head writer at “Saturday Night Live,” a woman who’d played sports in school and run track in college:

“She had an athlete’s approach to the world. She had a can-do attitude, a willingness to learn through practice, and she was comfortable being coached. Her success at the show was a testament to why all parents should make their daughters pursue team sports instead of pageants.”

On the other hand, everyone has worked with someone who, despite being talented, maybe even a star, slowed down the team.

So here’s a simple definition of a great teammate: Someone who raises the energy level of the group.


As a brilliant boss, what can you take from the Contribution Ethic?

Your job is to manage team energy. You don’t just want to surround yourself people who are willing to work hard, but rather with people who team hard, who bring ideas and support and who don’t just want to help, but figure out how.

Watch for The Contribution Ethic, Part 2, coming soon.

Friends and Colleagues, a favor:

I’d be grateful if you consider watching a movie called “Remember Me.” It won awards at film festivals and had a brief theatrical run. It’s just become available on iTunes. Why this movie? Well, it does have some powerful messages on being helpful, but the real reason is just this: Because my son is one of the lead actors.

He’s the one on the left of Rita Moreno in the poster. He even won the Best Actor award at the film festival in Tampa. It’s a charming, sweet movie and it’s funny, too, in an early Woody Allen kind-of-way.


Watch trailer (Youtube)

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