Let’s rebuild our businesses through the sincere efforts of the committed professionalism of top performers…

With Kirk and many like him still very much in my face and on my mind, I was thrilled to run into the Anti-Kirk the other day. The timing couldn’t have been any better because focusing our attention on professionals that are part of the proverbial solution, rather than those who define the problem, is the ticket to creating and sustaining high achievement.

For many years I’ve commuted home on the 8:04 PM Metro North train out of Grand Central Station and it was on this ride I got to know Joe the Conductor. If Joe ever told me his last name I’ve long since forgotten it, but I’ve gotten to know him rather well and have always admired his work. When bucketed in to stereotyped categories, Joe (a proud union member working for the Metropolitan Transit Authority on the Metro North New Haven Line where the train cars date back to the 1970’s), would seem to be a leading candidate for a horror story. But Joe the Conductor served as a nightly reminder that pride in workmanship, a keen sense of professionalism, and a deep understanding of customer service transcends even the most hardened stereotypes.

Over the years I learned a great deal by watching Joe; the way he handled belligerent drunks, resolved disputes between passengers, calmly dealt with the occasional rider who didn’t see any reason to buy a ticket, kept order when trains broke down or were forced to endure delays. Whether it was a cold winter night where several cars didn’t have heat or brutally hot summer days when the air conditioning didn’t work, Joe stayed in calm control. From time-to-time he would tell me about MTA policies or management decisions that made no sense, occasionally observing that the New Haven line was in sorry shape. Like all of us he undoubtedly had his bad days, felt pressures from professional or personal challenges, but Joe was the rare talent who was able to rise above any of these forces. I never saw him have a bad shift, I can’t ever recall him mishandling any situation (and on the 8:04 there were many tough ones, none of them could have been predicted), and he lit up every car of every train with his constant smile.

Joe retired earlier this summer and yet there he was the other night, kicking back as one of the passengers. Maybe it was his farewell tour or perhaps he simply missed being at his office, but it was great seeing him one last time. Seeing Joe the (retired) Conductor again was a much needed reminder for me that companies, industries and the entire economy as a whole can only be rebuilt through the sincere efforts of the highly knowledgeable, the deeply skilled, and the committed professionalism of top performers like Joe.

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