Archive for August, 2010

Reset to Zero

August 30, 2010

“Anger is a great force. If you control it, it can be transmuted into a powerwhich can move the whole world.”  William Shenstone  

 As a child, you know to ask your parents for a favor at precisely the right moment.

Timing is everything.

You would never ask your parents for a new bike immediately after they had a big fight.  You would wait for that precise moment when the world and the stars were in proper alignment.  The same is true for bosses.  That is why my boss is the best boss ever.

One day, I needed to talk to my boss about an important challenge I was having.  As I approached the office, the door was slightly ajar.  Slowly approaching, I realized that a co-worker was being reprimanded for some errors he had made earlier in the week.  Out of respect, I stepped back far enough so that I could not hear what was being said.  I considered leaving, but the problem was urgent.  The days of my childhood came racing back as I considered leaving.  I could wait until later, not knowing what could happen if I asked now.  I did not want to face the Pandora’s box that was unleashed by another employee.  Just as I was calculating my options, out walked the reprimanded employee, followed by my boss!

My boss saw me and invited me in, so I was obviously faced with an immediate decision.  I quickly thought, “Do I go in and face the wrath left over, or do I select the better part of valor, turn on my heels and go back to my cubicle?” However, before I could make a decision, my boss had flashed that famous smile, and invited me into her office and asked how she could help me.

My fear and dread vanished as I realized that there was not an ounce of anger left over.  The amazing thing was, she did not even appear to be angry at all.  I thought, “How in the world did her anger vanish so quickly?”  I could simply not understand how someone could be so frustrated one moment and perfectly calm and congenial the next.  To be honest, I had never seen behavior like this before from anyone, much less in a boss.  Typically, I saw bosses who, once they were angry, would remain that way and word quickly spread to stay out of their way.

However, my boss helped answer my question, gave me some great suggestions and wished me well. I left her office with my fear lifted, but still questioning how she got rid of anger so quickly.

Over the next few weeks, I pondered what she had done.  She had displayed some amazing self-control and focus.  About a month later, I finally mustered up the courage to ask how the feat was accomplished.  She quietly responded, “Reset to zero.” She said that she had learned the technique the hard way, after getting angry with the wrong employee in the past.  She told me, “One day, my anger simmered over to another employee who was not involved in the problem.  She ended up getting the brunt of my anger, even though she was not involved at all.  My anger and frustration left her in tears and she packed up her things and quit on the spot. As a boss, I was devastated.  I promised I would never direct my anger at the wrong individual again.”

She then explained to me how she learned the concept of “reset to zero.”  She was working on her computer when it suddenly froze.  After calling the IT help line, to see what could be done, they instructed her to reboot.  The IT technician responded, “When the computer gets overwhelmed, sometimes we have to reboot and it resets everything to zero.” She thought about it, realized the power and understood she quickly had to implement it into her life.

By asking my boss what reset to zero meant, I learned a valuable lesson on management and life.  I learned that, sometimes we all have to reset to zero when our anger gets the best of us and we get overwhelmed.

Invest in Growth

August 23, 2010

Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” Anthony Robbins

 I was seventeen when I got my first real job.  I had the prestigious title of “Lab Technician,” but I am sure that was just for funding purposes.  In reality, I just drove a truck all day.  Regardless, I was happy to have a job and years later, I am happy I had the best boss ever as my first boss.

 My first week on the loading dock, my boss—Jack—came up and said, “Every week, I take a fifteen minute walk with all of my employees and I’d like to set up your time for every Friday.” Being so young, I was not entirely sure if this was normal for a boss to take time out of his busy day, but I was not going to refuse his request.  Before walking away, Jack made direct eye contact and said, “Every week during our walk, I want to learn something from you about your job.  So as you work, think about what has helped you become more efficient and what has not. Then we will just talk about it.”

 As he walked away, I brushed off the chat as some new program that would soon fizzle, probably before Friday even came.  However, right on schedule, Jack walked up to me on Friday and asked, “Are you ready for our walk?”  We set off together and after some small talk about home, Jack proposed, “What has worked well for you this week?” As I started to explain everything I had learned about my new job, I could tell that Jack already knew most of what I had to say.  Suddenly though, Jack exclaimed, “Wow!  That is a great idea!  I want you to share that with the team.” 

 Fear suddenly engulfed me.  Everyone I knew at work had a PhD after their name, was a scientist, or triple my age–sometimes all three. I tried to back out, respectfully, but Jack insisted.  For the rest of our walk, Jack coached me on how to organize my ideas and present them to the group.  He even assured me that he would be by my side for the whole presentation, if I should need him. In just a short walk, Jack not only helped me respect my own opinion, he also taught me that I had ideas to share and that those ideas had value.

 By simply asking what had gone well for me that week, he changed the course of my entire life.  He helped me recognize the value of my ideas and I learned to see things from a different perspective. I now know that in every situation we are in, we need to continue to grow and learn. Despite your credentials behind your name, you can always learn more.  I respected Jack because he not only respected me, but he also respected my ideas, my opinions and he made me feel important, significant and even valuable. All while I was only seventeen.

A Simple Observation

August 17, 2010

A young man in his 30’s shared these observations with me.

My best boss was successful with the team because of how she identified the strengths of the team, and then used those strengths to motivate her team. If there were people who like competition, she made it a game. If they were people who like analysis, and deep thinking about a project, she put them in charge of the details. If there was someone who was outgoing, and gregarious, guess what, they became the project spokesperson.

In comparison, my worst boss simply drudged on with his team without changing his style to get the most out of her team-members. Be fair, and treat everyone the same was his mantra. My parents had the wisdom not to treat all of us the same. If you manage people it is your job to go for optimal performance. Don’t just make them fit your mentality – everyone is different. Look for their unique talents, and look for what will make them shine.

Be a Backstop

August 16, 2010

 “Character is power; it makes friends, draws patronage and support and opens the way to wealth, honor and happiness.”  John Howe

 She just continued to scream at me.

 The people in the hallway stopped. They looked in, they stared, my nerves continued to become more unraveled the more she yelled. All the children in the hallway outside my office got quiet—very quiet. They just looked at this mother scream as her shrill voice continued to escalate.

 Imagine your worst, most irate customer—ever. You wish you had a vanish button, or you wish she was standing over a trap door. Suddenly your daydreams are interrupted by the harsh sound of reality, her shrill voice neither stops nor goes away.  She just continues to scream at you. Her anger continues to grow as you do everything possible to calm her. Nothing works; no suggestion makes any difference. She just continues to get madder and madder.

 Since I am the secretary, I cannot fix her problem. It is so large even the principal of the grade school cannot fix it. I try to politely inform her of that, to no avail. She is just out of control and no one can stop her. Her anger finally gets the best of her and as she storms toward the doors and as she passes the other side, she yells, “I am going to central office and I will have your job.” She is gone, but not forgotten, as the situation loomed in my mind for days.

 In our school district when a parent goes to central office, many times it meant you could go ahead and pack your bags because your career with the school district was over.  The fear and dread of her going to central office continued to build all day long.  Then the inevitable e-mail appeared.  It was from the school district superintendent asking me to come to his office.  Thankfully, a carbon copy was sent to my principal.

 My principal called me into her office to ask about the situation.  She listened carefully to my side of the story and after hearing it, realized there was no simple or easy solution for this parent.  My principal informed me to not worry about it.  She even stated that she would go to central office on my behalf.  She went and dealt with the anger of the superintendent and the angry parent. The feeling of relief for working for a boss who was a backstop was incredible.

 Of course, the story became legendary at our school.  Our principal’s reputation and admiration from all the staff grew by leaps and bounds with this one event.

 The best thing I liked about my best boss was that she was a backstop for any challenges or problems that arose.  I would have walked through fire for her, because she was there for me, even when I thought I might lose my job at the district.

Getting the Credit I Didn’t Earn by Bill Cowles

August 9, 2010

“Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form. Its rewards are inestimable.”  Loretta Young

 I was 16 and the third string center on the varsity high school football team. This meant that the cheerleaders had a better chance of playing than I did. Nevertheless, being on the team was important to my social status in high school.

 One day between classes, the principal stopped me in the hallway and said the local newspaper was looking for a sportswriter, mostly to cover high school games on weekends. He knew that I had my own car and also knew that I had built a reputation as a strong writer. I was not sure how to respond, so tried to duck the answer by saying, “Well, we’re in the middle of football season. I’ll have to talk to coach.”

 The principal looked me in the eye and said, “I’ve already talked to coach. It’s OK with him.” My football career had been decided for me.

 So, after cleaning out my locker, my next stop was the local newspaper office to unravel the mystery of journalism and to unleash my talents on this new opportunity.

 My first meeting with the Sports Editor was on a Friday afternoon. He was the prototypical reporter—overweight, unshaven, chain-smoking and no-nonsense. His desk was strewn with paper. Clutter and chaos seemed to be the forces that held the place together.

 He did not have time for many pleasantries after hello, and we dove right into the operations of the cumbersome Graflex Speed Graphic camera, slides and battery pack I would have to tote along the sidelines. A clipboard loaded with yellow copy paper was easy to handle, but the prize awaiting my first assignment was my very own Press Card. Here was my ticket to the big-time. I now had access to the sidelines. Front-row seats wherever I went. The smell of a sweat-soaked football helmet and the cramping of interminable bus rides were but distant wistful memories.

 My first journalistic assignment was to cover a game between two local high school rivals. Off I went, camera, clipboard and Press Card prominently displayed. I took as many photos as I could; spelled players’ names as best I could; recorded the events and comments of the players and coaches as best I could. I had no idea what journalism was supposed to be like, so I reasoned that volume was a good start.

 After the game, I hauled my bounty back to the newspaper as fast as I could, but it was still well after 10 p.m. by the time I got there. Still learning the ropes, I was shown where to deposit the camera for film developing, and then where to sit and write my story.

 Eagerly, I grabbed pencil and paper and began writing the account of that epic battle between two gridiron giants who showed no quarter and…. Suddenly, by my shoulder, the Sports Editor loomed and boomed, “What the heck are you doing?”

“Writing my story,” I said. He scooped up my copy paper and pencils and threw them into the trashcan and, in the same motion, deposited a well-worn Smith-Corona in front of me.

 “Journalists type,” he said matter-of-factly.

 “But, I don’t know how to type,” I weakly protested.

 “Tonight, you learn,” was all he said on his way back to his own desk pile.

 As arguing didn’t seem advisable, I began hunting and pecking and re-hunting and re-pecking to the point where I had amassed about a page and a half of readable copy—and it took only to 3 a.m.! Proudly, I handed it in.

 After a quick look, the Editor said: “That will do. Go home and get some sleep.”

 Of course, I slept past noon that Saturday and, when I finally awoke, I ran outside to grab the paper from its afternoon delivery.

 And, there it was—on the first page of the Sports section—a picture that I took and a three-column story underneath it that touted: by Bill Cowles, Sports Reporter.

 I read that story in record time. Then I went back and read it slowly, savoring the language—the powerful adjectives, the vivid metaphors, and the colorful descriptions. I read it a third time when I finally realized that not a word of the article was mine. NOT A WORD. My version was so bad that he had to rewrite the entire story. Still, he put my byline on it. Moreover, he and I were the only ones who knew. He never told anyone.

 I worked for him for two years. He wrote me a recommendation letter for college. He sponsored me in a local writing competition. He furnished much of the editorial material for the paper when I won that competition. He wrote job recommendations for me after I graduated from college.

 He was the best boss I ever had because he was one of the wisest people I have ever known. He knew what I had given up to work for him. He knew that I did not know anything about his craft. He knew that I would work hard. He knew that I would learn more from getting the credit for a great story I did not write, than from suffering the ridicule and blame for a bad story I did write.

 He taught me to be a pretty good writer, and he taught me how to work with people. Give the credit; take the blame—skills that have helped me for a lifetime.

Pick the Weeds

August 5, 2010

We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction.”  Malcolm Gladwell

My best boss ever was J. Willard Marriott Jr. 

I used to be a regional manager for the Marriott Corporation and on occasion, J. Willard Marriott Jr. would visit my region to survey his hotels.  He came to one of the hotels in the south, and it was a warm, beautiful day in spring.  It was the kind of day that makes you wish you were young again.

As we approached the hotel, the manager of the property came out to greet Mr. Marriott and myself.  After exchanging pleasantries, we walked into the hotel.  We passed by a flower patch that unfortunately had some weeds in it.   Mr. Marriott got on his hands and knees and began to pull the weeds.

I had worked with Mr. Marriott enough to know to get down and help.  Unfortunately, the manager stood there and simply watched us.  Noticing this, I got up, placed my hands on his shoulders, and applied a little pressure.  He caught on and got down on his hands and knees with us.  The three of us finished the job.

Mr. Marriott did not say anything that day, but he spoke volumes.  If you see weeds, pick them.  People will get the idea.

Even though Mr. Marriott never said anything else about it, on subsequent visits to this hotel, I never, ever saw weeds in the flowerbed again. Never.