Good Luck…er, Sorry. I Mean Good Skill.

My second job out of college was, to put it mildly, an action-adventure-comedy. Don’t believe me? You try raising money for political campaigns by going door-to-door.

how to get first job good skill leadership skillsThe three-line ad in the San Diego Reader had caught my eye: “Earn $350/wk. raising money for progressive causes! 888-RUK-RAZY.” Who could resist such a simple, idealistic, rainbows-and-unicorns kind of opportunity? I was tired of the retail job I’d taken out of desperation after graduating in the middle of a recession. So I called, they said “Come on down,” I said “Yay!”

The rest is 18 months of job history.

There was no interview process, per se. Young, bright-eyed hopefuls like me showed up every day. We got a one-hour orientation, and then we were assigned an active canvasser to shadow for the evening. It was a total “throw ‘em in the deep end and see if they can swim” approach to recruitment.

I watched in awe during orientation as the veterans practiced their “raps” with each other, role-played both easy and difficult “doors,” refined their techniques for The Ask. The fundraising goal for each canvasser was $120 each night, in cash and/or checks. That worked out to a quota of $800 a week, which had to be met two weeks out of every three to maintain employment. Any canvasser who missed $800 one week was placed on probation and HAD to make it the following week—and the one after that.

My first night out, I went “out on turf” with my mentor canvasser from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. She was struggling. With two of four ours behind us, she had only $36.

She turned me loose, assigning me a set of eight homes to canvass solo. She slapped me on the back and said, “Good skill!” I thought it was a strange phrase, but I was overwhelmed enough that I didn’t think about it too hard.

I made the cut that night, coming back with $80 raised in just an hour. Within three weeks I was the mentor canvassers showing newbies how it’s done; two months into the job, I became Field Manager, in charge of the whole crew. There was no leadership training for that job. You got there through persistence, seniority, and the ability to support new recruits as they struggled to find their own instant fundraising style.

The phrase I’d heard that first night was ubiquitous. We weren’t allowed to use the words “Good Luck,” even if it was somebody’s last night to make quota. The Canvas Director told us that “Good Luck” assumes you need luck. “Good Luck” means you aren’t in control of what happens out there in the world. “Good Luck” implies that your future is in their hands, not yours. So we always said “Good Skill.”

I’ve fallen back on that phrase a lot in the decades since that job. I said “Good Skill” to friends who were about to defend doctoral dissertations and masters theses. I’ve said it to bosses heading out on sales calls. I’ve even said it to friends heading to job interviews.

One of the things that I love about leadership training and The Gordon Model is it develops that very same sense of personal power and control when it comes to interpersonal communication. Good working relationships aren’t a matter of luck. They’re a matter of skill. Luck is random; skill is learned, practiced, and refined.

Next time you’re trying to encourage somebody who’s up against a big challenge, and the outcome is within their control, try saying “Good Skill” instead of “Good Luck.” It’s a lot more reassuring, somehow, to be reminded that in most things, we really ARE the captains of our own fate.

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