I use an alarm to get out of bed midweek. I set it early enough for me to get up, shower and get ready for work and have breakfast before heading off for work. Usually, I don’t get up straight away and put the alarm back on sleep; not really sure why this habit has evolved but the older I get, the slower I am to get moving in the morning. Recently, when staying interstate for work, I had to catch the first flight of the day so I thought it was prudent to not only set the alarm but to have the safety net of a “wake up” call. It was very fortunate that I did this because I had turned the alarm to sleep and fallen back into a deeper sleep. Without the “wake up” call, I would have definitely missed my flight. It was the “wake up” call that I needed at that time and it got me thinking about other times where I have needed or seen “wake up” calls be effective at work and in life in general.

Government Wake Ups

Last weekend, the Australian federal parliament was required to have five unscheduled by-elections around the country as a result of the investigation to citizenship declarations. The media labelled this day as “Super Saturday” because the results were seen as a pointer to a federal election expected to be called in either late 2018 or early 2019. If the Labor Party was to lose any seats that they held to the Liberal National Coalition Government, it was said that the leadership of the party would change. If the Liberal Party was to suffer significant swings against it in any of the three seats they were contesting it was said to put the leadership of Prime Minister Turnbull under more pressure. Low and behold, the opposition Labor Party won back all of the seats and continued the 109 year tradition of opposition parties winning by-elections for previously held seats and the rumblings started immediately about the leadership of Prime Minister Turnbull. Government ministers did the rounds of media interviews and their message was simple and cliché; this was the “wake up” call that was needed and they were committed to engage more with the community to deliver services to them.

Sporting Wake Ups

Sport is another arena where the phrase “wake up call” is regularly used. This week, the Brisbane Broncos were apparently unbeatable against the bottom placed Canterbury Bulldogs yet they were blown off the park. The next day, the Broncos captain was quoted as saying it was the “wake up call” his side needed to get them to focus on their run into the NRL final series. My favourite sporting story of redemption concerns former Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting. He was known as a batting prodigy; he was the star of the Australian Cricket Academy where he, as a 16 year old, was known to hit bouncers of his nose without wearing a helmet irrespective of who was bowling at him. He was selected for Australia as a 19 year old and success came easily to him. He was also known as a “larrikin” who enjoyed a beer and a punt on the greyhounds as well as watching footy. However, his world came crumbling down when he appeared on the front page of the paper sporting a goatee beard and a black eye after a fight at the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar in the notorious Sydney suburb of Kings Cross. His career was hanging by a thread and he was disciplined strongly by Cricket Australia. It was the “wake up call” that Ponting needed and he responded by cleaning up his image, moderating his behaviour, settling down in his private life and becoming one of Australia’s greatest ever batsman and captain and example for many junior cricketers throughout the world.

Career Wake Ups

Upon reflection, I have had the benefit of many “wake up calls” in my own career. There are some that stand out to me and have shaped so many of my future habits at work. Many years ago, a past Managing Director of the first recruitment business I worked with invited me to participate in a meeting scheduled for 9.00am one morning. I was a relatively confident young fellow and was there with plenty of time but spent five minutes outside talking to other team members before attempting to join the meeting at 9.02am. I was shocked to find the door shut and be told that if I couldn’t bring myself to be on time I had no right to participate. I was humiliated and my ego was dented. However, this was certainly a necessary “wake up call” for me and I have never been late for a meeting or for work again. This intervention helped shape a behaviour that has been a foundation stone for my career decades later.

Another time that stands out for me occurred approximately 15 years ago just after I had set up Optimum Consulting and business was going very well. We had well and truly exceeded my expectations and business was good. I was happy and confident about the future and this confidence was soon to progress to hubris. This hubris was evident when I received a phone call of complaint from a long term customer. He was disappointed by my lack of service to him and complained that I had not returned his past two phone calls. I told him that I was busy and apologised but he reminded me that I was never too busy to return calls in the past and let me know that I had to be careful not to become one of those “big headed, arrogant” recruiters. He was 100% correct and he is still my client and friend today. His message was strong but it was the “wake up call” that I needed and today I try hardest to always return telephone calls and keep my ego in check.

“Wake up calls” can be very painful things to receive in life and in business. They can be humiliating and sometimes they can feel unfair. However, there is often a message there that needs to be heeded. I am thankful of the “wake up calls” that I have received during my career. They have worked wonders in ensuring that I am planned and punctual and keeping my ego in check. They were painful at first but I am thankful that they have provided me with the balance to build my career.

Brad McMahon – Managing Director

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