How to be Extraordinary in Work and Life: A Review of The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn
Everything we do in our day-to-day lives could very well be seen as “ordinary.” We wake up, get ready for work, embark on our morning commute, accomplish tasks at the office, maybe hit the gym, eat, and go to sleep. While most of us may consider this routine mundane, these small moments and hours make up our present and influence our future.
If these unextraordinary daily tasks add up to being much more, why don’t we make the most of them? Mark Sanborn tells the story of a man who did just that in his 2002 book, The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary.
A Purpose-Driven Life
The story of Fred starts when Sanborn moves to a house in a suburban Colorado neighborhood. Upon moving in, he heard a knock on the door – and was promptly greeted by his postal carrier – a tidy, smiling gentleman named Fred. Sanborn is surprised when Fred begins asking questions about his travel schedule and preferences on mail delivery – no other mail carrier had ever been so attentive.
From that day forward, Fred showcases compassion, attention to detail, and consideration of Sanborn’s mail and the mail of his neighbors that far exceeds the work of your “average” postal carrier. This included hiding mail under the doormat when he knew Sanborn was traveling, to picking up slack for the UPS teams that placed packages on the wrong doorstep.
The biggest question Sanborn had was: why? Why would Fred be inspired to go above and beyond every day, knowing that there was no extra monetary compensation or praise?
Fred’s response when asked this question was that being extraordinary gave him purpose. When he closed his eyes at night, he felt accomplished knowing that he had made a difference in the lives of his customers.
Sanborn took these anecdotes from his friendship with Fred as inspiration for his book. Below are the core principles that characterize a Fred.
The Four Principles of The Fred Factor
Principle #1: Everyone Makes a Difference
No matter how large or small your organization – everyone has the power and ability to make a difference. Even if an employer hinders individual performance or does not choose to recognize it, it is ultimately the employee’s responsibility to choose to do their job in an extraordinary way – whether a result of – or despite – the work environment.
Take a minute to reflect –
Do you add to or take away from the experience of your customers and colleagues?
Do you move your organization closer to or further from its goals?
Do you perform your work in an ordinary way, or do you execute it superbly?
Do you lighten someone’s burden, or add to it?
Do you lift someone up, or put someone down?
Nobody can prevent you from choosing to be extraordinary. At the end of the day, the only question that matters is, “Did I make a positive difference today?”
Fulfilling this principle means setting a higher standard for yourself and others. Of course, this is easier said than done, since doing the status quo will always be easier than going above and beyond. As you work toward being exceptional, you may experience criticism from those who are threatened by your achievements. But ultimately, the more value you create for others, the more value will return to you.
Principle #2: Everything is Built on Relationships
Fred’s mail-carrying service is an ideal example of how building relationships results in better customer service. While Sanborn’s previous mail carriers had done their job to an adequate standard – the shining difference in Fred’s service was his commitment to nurturing a personal relationship with his customers.
Sanborn makes the point that “indifferent people deliver impersonal service. Service becomes personalized when a relationship exists between the provider and the customer.” This creates a human element that is imperative for our successes in work and life; leaders succeed when they recognize the human nature of their team.
How do you take time to get to know your customers and your internal team? Do you understand their preferences and needs for communication, and do you leverage that information to make their life easier?
Principle #3: You Must Continually Create Value for Others, and it Doesn’t Have to Cost a Penny
Do you find yourself thinking negative thoughts about your available resources? Don’t have enough money? The right education? The right timing?
Do you allow those thoughts to limit your ability to excel in work and life?
Sanborn encourages his readers to consider Fred. The only resources he had at his disposal were his mailbag and uniform. The difference is that Fred thought a little bit harder and more creatively than most postal carriers, allowing him to create value for his customers at no cost to himself.
This principle is important for anyone looking to move up within their organization or who is concerned about job security – are you spending your time worrying about what might happen, or are you instead focusing your energy on being exceptional – and employable?
Principle #4: You Can Reinvent Yourself Regularly
The final principle Sanborn took away from his relationship with Fred is this: if Fred could be so creative in how he delivered mail, how can you bring more originality to your work?
Fred inspires us to be better on days when we are tired and unmotivated.
“If Fred the Postman could bring that kind of creativity and commitment to putting mail in a box, I can do as much or more to reinvent my work and rejuvenate my efforts. I believe that no matter what job you hold, what industry you work in or where you live, every morning you wake up with a clean slate.”
Strategies for Success: Implementing The Fred Factor
One of the key takeaways I had after reading The Fred Factor is the idea that to optimize success within an organization, you must be a Fred, and you must surround yourself with Fred’s.
When it comes to leadership and company culture, this makes sense. If we expect our teams to go above and beyond, we as leaders need to be exceptional in providing training, direction, and communication.
Being a Fred also comes into play in our personal lives. For example, imagine if you intentionally greeted your coworkers every morning or took 5 minutes to do something kind for your spouse or children. How could these actions impact the quality of your present and future relationships?
Similarly, it is equally important to expect a high level of customer experience from your team, and to vet interviewees for these qualities. I have implemented this by asking questions in interviews such as “describe a time when you had an exceptional customer experience,” or “why would someone be motivated to go above and beyond?”
TeamCOACT is implementing principles from The Fred Factor as our theme for the year. We look forward to leveraging these ideas to inspire us toward being extraordinary with our clients and internal teams.
COACT specializes in relationship development and management systems. Our team of business development and marketing professionals are experts at prospecting, pre-qualifying, and positioning strategic business opportunities for our clients – one quality interaction at a time. To learn more about how COACT creates strategic long-term growth for businesses around the world, contact us to schedule an introductory call.
By Anna Wagenhauser