Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Up On Lonesome Mountain

One of the worst jobs I ever had was working as the manager of a mid-sized discount shoe store in 2001-2002. For a while, it wasn't terrible- I met lots of women and the insurance was good- but one day I woke up with a tingling in my left arm...it was the onset of a neuropathic condition that left me without significant use of my left arm for over one year , I was shattered emotionally as well, since I fully expected to lose the arm entirely. During this time, I started drinking heavily, mixing my pain medicine with vodka in a vain attempt to get through each grueling day...tying my shoes and driving were ordeals, working was pure hell. My staff, who had been disciplined and loyal, saw my weakness and vulnerability and ran roughshod over me, coming in late, shirking chores...what was I to do? Fire them all? I couldn't even put shoes in a bag without outside help. I had two surgeries on my arm, but it wasn't healing as hoped- I needed therapy but the store wouldn't give me any more time off...
I had lost control of my staff and I was working myself towards an amputation. Plus I was severely wasted 24/7 and my skin and eyes were becoming yellow. Again, what to do?

I quit the job and I temporarily cut way, way back on the booze. I took my therapy and eventually regained nearly full use of my left arm; it sometimes hurts a bit, but the pain never lasts long or gets truly debilitating. Most days I can play guitar just fine.

At my new job, I am once again in charge of a large staff - I have twelve clerks, which is the largest group I've ever managed at one time- and some of the lessons from the shoe store are becoming useful:

1) Never show weakness. Never act tired , sick, angry or frustrated. Ever.
This is extremely challenging for me. I am fairly open with my thoughts and feelings, but at work I have to watch what I say and the manner in which I say it.

2) Respect the staff. I 'eavesdrop' on my clerks and when I see or hear them doing exemplary work, I mention a detail or two that I have noticed and tell them I appreciate the good work. It's amazing how surprised most of them seemed- they aren't accustomed to praise, it seems, although they (as a whole) deserve quite a bit.

Another important thing is to give fair credit when due. For example, one of my staff had a great idea that helped reduce our manual paperwork (we are not PC-based) and during a meeting I gave him props for coming up with the idea; now his nickname is "The Doctor" because he fixed a problem that was making us sick.

Some of the managers I have worked for have stolen my ideas and passed them off as their own, and that has always irked me. As a clerk, it made me feel ripped-off and unmotivated. I'd stop doing my real work and spend my numbered days dreaming up faulty, unworkable systems and hoping that the boss would "appropriate" them and suffer the havok wrought by their implementation...as a manager, I would rather demonstrate to my superiors that I have an an engaged, motivated staff that are putting their minds into the process. Getting the best out of people is, in my opinion, what leadership is about.

Plus, if I give the impression that I can do it all by myself, I'll wind up having to do it all myself.

Today I got a flat tire at lunchtime. I had been meaning to replace the crappy, broken tire jack in my trunk but had never gotten around to it, so I was forced to call AAA. I was parked adjacent to a Wendy's drive-in and I gotta give props to the towtruck driver for being able to extract my crippled vehicle from behind the lunchtime queue of honking cars. It was towed to a nearby tire shop and two hours and two hundred dollars later, I was back at work.

My new job is the most challenging one I've ever had, but I'm getting it done and done well, I might add. It has sapped a bit of my blogavation though...by the time I get home, I'm usually too frazzled to think, much less write. Last night, I fell asleep before 9 pm...I'm hoping it calms down soon- I'll be moving to nights next week, so that should be less frenetic, plus I'll have a few extra daytime hours in the morning (if I don't oversleep). I have a love/hate affair with the dawn hours.

But for now, I'm beat. Toast. Done.
Temporarily, at least.

Have a nice night, hope to see you soon.


Citymouse said...

Challenge is growth and growth is good... :)

yellowdog granny said...

your a good boss..and a good guy...get some rest..we'll be here waiting for you when your all rested up.

Sling said...

I never understood why so many of my bosses felt the need to be complete assholes.
Good on you for figuring out that people respond more positively when you approach them with respect.

~PakKaramu~ said...

a path way lwading to better tomorrows

billy pilgrim said...

only treat the good staff with respect.

treat the dog fuckers like shit. seeing the dog fuckers get away with doing little work might turn the good workers into dog fuckers.

Allan said...

CM- Yes.It is.

JS- Rest? What is "rest"?

S- I've been on both ends of the ladder and a good boss makes a huuuge difference.

P- Thank you.

BP- We all work non-stop. I will brook no dog-fuckery.

Anonymous said...

When I was a work study student and headed for grad school one of the secretaries in the department where I worked gave me this advice: Always be nice to the secretaries. I never forgot that, and they always looked out for me. It is as easy to be nice as to be a jerk.

whimsical brainpan said...

You are a great boss. Your staff is lucky.