Ya Gotta Wanna

“Before you can, ya gotta wanna!”

Plain & simple.

I would often hear the term “willing learner” from our Training organization @ Citi.

If you don’t want to learn more, don’t really thirst for additional knowledge to increase your expertise or are unable/unwilling to see the relationship between knowledge & performance (“working hard vs. working smart”), then you’ll simply view training classes, independent research, reading to learn, talking with the experts, questioning anything & everything as mere tasks…and not as wonderful opportunities to deepen your knowledge & hence, improve your performance & incremental value to the customer.

Similarly, if you don’t have a genuine desire to help the customer, you’ll never become the ultimate customer advocate, regardless of how much you know.

If you’re not truly passionate about something, about anything in life, then you’re merely sleep-walking through the day. You will never be truly successful in anything if you’re not passionate about it!

(Note: Just being passionate about something will certainly NOT guarantee you success in that endeavor, but you’ll NEVER be successful, nor reach your full potential, without it.)

One of the proudest moments in my entire life came when Ken Villano (USCC CEO) was introducing me to the entire USCC manager & officer population (~350-400) at one of our Quarterly Managers Meetings…while trying to avoid actually using my name. I was sitting with my back to the audience when he said, “So how do I introduce our next speaker without actually saying his name?

“I know. This guy has more passion in the very tip of his pinky than the entire room has all put together!”

When the audience gave me this stupid crazy standing ovation, cheering “Mikey!”, it completely blew me away! These nuts are pounding on the folding chairs & screaming while Ken’s trying to get them to settle down…in vain.

Got me pretty damned choked up that I couldn’t even say anything for about a minute.

No, I didn’t know anything & I wasn’t (by far!) the most successful person there, but there was NO ONE who cared more for our customers or more for our people than I did.

And that included all 300K+ employees of Citigroup at the time.

Nobody wanted it more than I did. Some could claim to be as passionate or want it just as much, but no one was more passionate or wanted it more than me.

And I always tried to make that passion infectious with all the people I ever led & with whom I was ever associated.

And I managed some absolutely GREAT ones, people who eventually became wildly successful!

People who were willing to run through the wall for customers. People who wouldn’t give up trying to help even when they exhausted every approved avenue designed to assist.

There was one particular employee who worked as a Client Escalation specialist in my organization for whom I was incredibly fond…Dale Thompson.

Dale left us waaaay too soon back in mid-2015…it was so very tragic. One of the biggest regrets of my life was not being able to speak with Dale before he passed in May of that year. He left me a 12-sec VoiceMail message on March 21 & said that he needed to talk with me. He was still in San Antonio & I was living in Columbus, OH at the time, having left SA 8 years earlier. I think I may have spoken with Dale once in that entire time.

I returned his call, got his VM recording & hung up without leaving a message. I figured he’d see my number & call me back.

He never did & I eventually learned of his unfortunate passing a couple of months later.

I still have his message on my cell phone. To this day.

I must’ve played it a thousand times over. I knew that had we had the opportunity to talk, had I called him back yet again, that I would’ve been able to prevent what eventually transpired.

Haunted me for months & months & months…I still think about him to this very day.

I’ve never felt worse or more useless in my entire life. I don’t care what anyone says…I know what I could’ve done.

We had the greatest respect & admiration for each other.

He would often come to me with the infamous “folder” of his…filled to the brim with screen prints “showing” how Citi was “improperly” removing (or not removing) holds on deposited funds.

He probably sat with every manager he ever had/knew as well as dozens & dozens of other reps in CitiPhone to “discuss this major issue”.

But I seriously doubt if any of them really understand how the system worked as well as Dale did.

Then we met.

I literally spent hours with him going over the “evidence” he had compiled. I also spent hours upon hours on the phone with various CAS/Checking Account System programmers & managers, reviewing systems rules & going over different examples.

I eventually came to the conclusion that Dale was actually mistaken in some of his assumptions. I remember when I told him…he still adamantly believed that there was an issue.

The only “issue” was that our system (specifically, the TJ/Transaction Journal) didn’t display everything that actually transpired, especially in those situations when some of the “contributing accounts” for Checks-As-Cash (service designed to use Savings accounts to prevent/reduce delays on deposited Checking funds) had other transactions affecting their available & contributing balances.

Trust me on the brief explanation…way too many years have passed for me to recall every specific detail.

Sometimes, I can remember the smallest inane thing. And then, there are days when I forget what I ate for breakfast.

Or who or where I am.)


One Friday, Dale came to me with an usual situation. We had already received word earlier that day that the payroll file from Chicago’s Board of Education had not been received by Citibank.

Teachers’ accounts would not be credited that day, but would be on Monday. In no way was Citi at fault or responsible for the mishap. Apparently, the Board of Education also communicated the issue to their affected employees & teachers.

One of the impacted teachers called CitiPhone when she didn’t see her account credited & the service rep fully explained the situation, telling the customer that she would have to wait until Monday as per the information we were given by the Board of Education.

(Or “Bored of Education”, as some students would say.)

The call was escalated by the initial rep & transferred to my Supervisor Gate. Dale got the call.

And while there was really nothing in our official processes or procedures to address this specific situation, Dale wouldn’t give up.

The customer was extremely distraught over her inability to provide for her children over the weekend…and she was crying.

Dale came directly to me. (Note: He skipped over his Manager & Asst VP.)

He already researched & established that the customer did, indeed, receive direct payroll every other Friday.

He checked other accts (no significant balances), looked for overdraft protection (she didn’t have Checking Plus) & saw that she’d been a Citibank customer for ~6 years.

He asked if we could possibly “advance her” the $600+ (the amount of the missing/anticipated direct deposit) until Monday.

(I may have been born at night, but, trust me, it wasn’t last night. I fully realize that this could’ve been a situation where a recently-released/terminated Board of Ed employee made up a story, but that hadda be a major coincidence that it would happen exactly when there was a direct direct of payroll issue that very same day.)

I asked Dale if he was totally comfortable with (my) giving her the money.

“That’s why I came to you, Mike!”

I credited the account for the entire amount (yes, I could’ve only given her $100 or so to “get her through the weekend” & reduce our exposure, but if you’re gonna do the right thing for someone, may as well go for the gusto, right?).

The customer was ecstatic…thanks to Dale’s initiative!

Come Monday morning, after we verified that she, indeed, received the actual direct deposit, we “took back the Friday credit” (placing a hold on her account, then passing a paper debit via the Investigations Unit) & called her to verify everything.

That’s a great example of “ya gotta wanna”. Not sure many people would’ve gone that route (I know many branches would’ve done something similar for their customer, but rarely would you find something like that being done in a back-office, remote-servicing setting where we’re not face-to-face with the customers).

Now while Dale also had the technical expertise that this was something that was physically possible for us to execute, it was his intense passion to help the customer that prompted the whole thing.

You’ll always see that extraordinary desire, that passion, that same character trait. in EVERY successful person you meet or hear about in life.

And while they certainly possess some other special qualities, skills or abilities (including luck), that passion for what they do will always be present…and most times, front & center.

If you simply treat it “like a job” or “somewhere to get paid”, you’ll never approach your full potential.

And just like passion can be so infectious with your people, so can the lack of passion.

If you’re just going through the motions, so will your people.

A true leader, a great leader, always leads by example.

You can’t, nor shouldn’t, expect your people to deliver a certain level of performance that you, yourself, are unwillingly, or unable, to do so yourself.

Always told my people that I wanted them to work hard. Extremely hard. I wanted them to leave work exhausted, either mentally &/or physically.

But I guaranteed them that they would never, ever work any harder than me or be more tired at the end of the day.

I wanted them to understand, and appreciate the fact, that I was right there with them.

That I would never ask them to do something that I wasn’t willing or able to do myself.

That’s how you build true credibility with your people. Put yourself out there. Don’t ever be afraid or hesitant to ask them for bigger or better things as that’s already how you treat yourself!

Good luck.

And, as always, thank you for listening!

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