By Harvey Mackay

An old farmer had been plowing with an ox and a mule teamed together. One day, the ox said to the mule, “Let’s play sick today and take it easy.”

But the mule said, “No, we need to get our work done.”

The ox played sick anyway and the farmer brought it fresh hay and corn and tried to make it comfortable.

When the mule came in from plowing that day, the ox asked how it went. “We didn’t get quite as much done,” the mule said, “But we did a fair stretch.”

Then the ox asked, “What did the farmer say about me?”

“Nothing,” the mule replied.

Thinking he had a good thing going, the ox decided to play sick again the next day. When the mule returned from the field, the ox asked, “How did it go today?”

“All right,” the mule said, “but we didn’t get much done.”

“Well,” the ox continued, “what did the farmer say about me?”

“Nothing to me,” the mule answered, “but he did stop and have a long talk with the butcher.”

You’ve probably worked with an ox at some point in your career. They don’t start out lazy; they just get bored . . . burned out . . . comfortable enough to take advantage of the company’s absence policy to the point where their coworkers are stuck picking up the slack and working harder than they should. And make no mistake, the coworkers know the score. No doubt they know the butcher, too.

And if you think the mules in your company are the clock-punching, grunt-work drones who sit in generic cubicles, I’ve got news for you. Everybody from the president on down needs to think like the mule. Being there counts for something. Accepting responsibility counts for more.

Companies need dependable, committed employees who can talk themselves into getting the job done even when they don’t feel like working. Some employees use all kinds of tricks: check out the new car in the driveway and think about the next payment . . . imagine the next promotion and the corner office that goes with it. . . calculate the expected cost of college tuition for the rugrats at home. A little reality check is a good start. But payday shouldn’t be your chief motivation.

The real pros know how to motivate themselves before they start having bad days. They look at work differently, not just as a means of making a living, but as a significant part of a quality life. Their particular mix of attitude, responsibility, cooperation and accomplishment make them a valuable commodity in any organization.

Joan is a busy realtor with an active family who also manages to organize a sizable silent auction for her church and spends time helping at her kids’ school as well. Joan’s willingness to get the job done, no matter what the job happens to be, has earned her the respect and awe of everyone who has ever worked with her. Does she have boundless energy? No. She’s not even a “morning person.” Her secret? “I have exactly twenty-four hours to make life better than it was yesterday.” Joan would probably laugh if I told her she was a mule.

Mules, by the way, like their jobs and perform well as a result. If they find themselves getting in a rut, they stubbornly haul themselves out. That quiet determination is a huge asset in business. The ability to get over the bumps is frequently the difference between success and chapter 11.

The mules — the steady, willing, get-the-job-done employees — are worth their weight in gold. Don’t confuse the reliable, day-in, day-out dependability with a lack of creativity. It’s usually the mules, the folks who are there, who find creative solutions to everyday problems. They know how things work.

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